Toward A Better Future in Puerto Rico

Sitting less than 1,000 miles from the American mainland, Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since the end of the Spanish-American War in 1897. Since 1917, Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens. Puerto Rican soldiers, seamen, airmen and Marines have fought bravely in every American conflict of the last 100 years, serving — and making the ultimate sacrifice — at higher rates than Americans from almost anywhere else.

Puerto Rico is clearly blessed with natural beauty, a vibrant culture, and hard-working and patriotic Americans. Unfortunately, the same liberal ideology that has wreaked havoc on the broader U.S. has had far more disastrous consequences for Puerto Rico. Like their counterparts in Washington, Puerto Rico’s liberal-leaning politicians — who today are hosting Hillary Clinton in San Juan — have taxed and spent too much, and lacked the political courage and competence to pull Puerto Rico out of economic despair. The result is today’s toxic brew of economic stagnation, high taxes and bloated government, which have led to a serious debt crisis and a mass exodus of its people. More than 3.5 million American citizens live in Puerto Rico today, and they are facing grim economic hardship.

While some have suggested Washington can deliver a silver bullet solution to help Puerto Rico, the reality is that Puerto Rico’s leaders must lead and do the difficult but essential work of cutting spending, reining in out-of-control big government and eliminating job-killing policies, including scores of new tax increases. Allowing Puerto Rican municipalities to reorganize their debts under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code would not solve Puerto Rico’s problems and should only be a measure of last resort considered if Puerto Rico takes significant steps to fix its budget and economic mess. So far, Hillary Clinton’s liberal hosts in San Juan today have failed to propose any serious measures to fix Puerto Rico’s economic challenges.

While Puerto Rico’s recovery will rest on Puerto Rican leaders, the next U.S. president can make a positive contribution. By turning America away from the Obama agenda that Hillary Clinton would expand, and instead implementing my conservative agenda, we can create favorable conditions for a Puerto Rican renaissance as part of a new American economy in the 21st century.

For example, one way I will tackle unemployment is by making low-paying work more attractive through reforms to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that make it a wage enhancement paid throughout the year. Unlike the current EITC, which does not apply in Puerto Rico, my proposed wage enhancement plan would make sure that encouraging work in Puerto Rico isn’t hampered by a federal government that too often treats our citizens there unequally in its policies. We can also help Puerto Rican families through pro-growth, pro-family tax reform that not only creates more jobs but also doubles the Child Tax Credit for every child. Existing law limits this credit to Puerto Rican workers with three or more children, but as president, I will pursue tax reform for all Americans that recognizes that the financial burdens of raising children starts with the first child. And while all Americans will benefit when I repeal and replace ObamaCare, Puerto Ricans especially will feel relief from the disproportionate damage the Obama Administration has inflicted on the island by raiding its Medicare Advantage funding and reducing reimbursement payments for Medicare, which have left patients with fewer health care options and higher costs. Under my plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare, Puerto Rican consumers will be treated the same as other American consumers on the mainland. In fact, as president, I will pursue policies to make our country stronger and life better for all our citizens, including those in Puerto Rico.

Ultimately, Puerto Rico’s status must be resolved, and its unequal treatment by the federal government must end. As president, I will continue to speak clearly about the importance of enabling Puerto Ricans to resolve their status. Already, during a 2012 referendum, Puerto Ricans made their aspirations clear by rejecting the status quo and choosing statehood. Puerto Rico deserves to take the next step, something America has offered to its territories since 1787 when it first opened the door to the creation of new states, even before adopting our Constitution. Puerto Rico should have a federally-sponsored vote on the island with two choices: become a state or not. If a majority of Puerto Ricans votes yes, Congress and the next president should respect their will and do what’s necessary to admit them as the 51st state.

For over a century, Puerto Ricans have contributed to our economy, enriched our culture and nobly sacrificed in our wars. Puerto Ricans are Americans. They deserve better than indifferent leadership in Washington and atrocious big government mismanagement in San Juan. Puerto Rico’s leaders must answer the challenge, but by taking some of the steps outlined here, leaders in Washington can do their part to help make Puerto Rico America’s jewel in the Caribbean.