Mr. POLIS. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, House Resolution 1305 provides for consideration of H.R. 2499, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009, under a structured rule. The rule provides 1 hour and 30 minutes of general debate, with 1 hour equally divided and controlled by the chair and ranking minority members of the Committee on Natural Resources and 30 minutes controlled by Representative Velazquez of New York. The rule makes in order those amendments printed in the report of the Committee on Rules. The
amendments made in order may be offered only in the order printed in the Rules Committee report, may be offered only by a Member designated in the report, shall be considered as read, shall be debatable for the time specified in the report, equally divided and controlled by the proponent and an opponent, shall not be subject to amendment, and shall not be subject to a demand for a division of the question. Finally, the rule provides one motion to recommit with or without instructions.
The rule is a fair rule. There were 35 amendments submitted for this bill, 13 of which were found to be nongermane. Of the remaining amendments, eight are made in order under this rule--three offered by Republicans and five offered by Democrats.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of House Resolution 2499, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act. I'd like to thank Speaker Pelosi, who has been an unrelenting champion of this important issue; and Leader Hoyer, whose strong support of this bill helped bring the resolution to the floor. I also want to recognize Resident Commissioner Pierluisi for sponsoring the bill and Chairman Rahall for his leadership on this issue.
This bill is based on the most fundamental democratic principle, the rule of self-determination. Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory for over 100 years; yet during that time, Congress has never bothered to determine whether Puerto Ricans are actually satisfied with the status quo. H.R. 2499 aims to fix that by offering fellow citizens this basic right.
Puerto Ricans have been American citizens since 1917. During that time, they've contributed to our country's culture and economy while also serving proudly in the Armed Forces to defend our Nation. In fact, Puerto Rico has historically ranked alongside the top five States in per capita military service in defense of our Nation.
Yet, in spite of the contributions Puerto Ricans have made to this country, they do not receive all of the benefits that are due to them as American citizens. Their representative in Congress is a resident commissioner, who works tirelessly to advance their interests, yet has limited voting rights, instead of several Congresspeople with full voting rights the Puerto Ricans deserve. While they pay many taxes, Federal programs treat Puerto Rico less [Page: H3020]
equally when compared to the 50 States. As I mentioned before, while they have courageously served in the military, and in fact at a higher rate than many other States, they do not yet have the right to vote for President of the United States, the Commander in Chief.
It's imperative that Congress act to right these wrongs which Puerto Ricans have had to live through for so long. The Puerto Rico Democracy Act would do that. If enacted, this bill would authorize a plebiscite process which would offer Puerto Ricans the chance to vote on the future of their island. The plebiscite would ask the unambiguous question: Are you satisfied with the status quo? If a majority of Puerto Ricans vote ``yes,'' then the government of Puerto Rico would be authorized to hold
regular plebiscites every 8 years to ensure that voters continue to have the opportunity to express themselves democratically over time.
If a majority vote is against the status quo, if they decide that they are tired of their being treated as second-class citizens, the plebiscite will ask them to choose between nonterritorial status options: independence, statehood, and free association. This plebiscite represents the straightforward expression of self-determination and direct democracy that would allow Puerto Ricans to express their wishes to Congress. I, for one, will support the express wishes of the Puerto Rican people as
a Member of Congress representing Colorado.
Like any important piece of legislation, this bill has some critics. You will hear from them today. Opponents have claimed that the bill favors statehood, and they take issue with how the plebiscite is being constructed. It's not only fair but imperative that voters, our fellow Americans, be given the opportunity to express whether or not they approve of their current status quo that is disenfranchising Puerto Ricans.
I urge and encourage my colleagues to support the rule, and I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I'd like to, first of all, thank my friend, the gentleman from Colorado (Mr. Polis), for the time; and I yield myself such time as I may consume.
The underlying legislation, H.R. 2499, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009, is a fair and appropriate way for the people of Puerto Rico to express themselves at the ballot box regarding the critical issue of their permanent status. The legislation would allow a plebiscite whereby the people of Puerto Rico will decide whether to maintain their current political status or have a different status. If a majority favors a different status, the Government of Puerto Rico would be authorized to conduct
a second plebiscite among three nonterritorial status options recognized under United States and international law: independence, United States statehood, or sovereignty in association with the United States. They would, obviously, have to be worked out between sovereign Puerto Rico and sovereign United States.
The legislation does not dictate an outcome for the people of Puerto Rico. Congress will not take sides by voting for this legislation. Congress will only be asking the Puerto Rican people to vote on the issue of their permanent status. This process is absolutely respectful of the Puerto Rican people's right to decide their future status.
I wish to commend Resident Commissioner Pierluisi and my dear friend and former colleague, Governor Luis Fortuno, for extraordinary leadership on this issue. Both of them have earned the admiration of both sides of the aisle in the United States Congress and deserve commendation for their leadership.
Mr. Speaker, I understand that some Members of Congress have concerns that the results of the election would be automatically implemented. I was discussing with my colleague, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, some falsehoods that are being said on radio and other media that the vote today is one that would set up a process that would automatically be implemented. That is not the case. The results of the plebiscites are nonbinding on Congress. So in order for the results to be put into effect, whatever
the results of the referendum would be, Congress would need to debate again and, again, pass legislation. In other words, new legislation.
My position with regard to the status of Puerto Rico is that the people of Puerto Rico have the right to decide the political and legal status of their wonderful island through a fair, neutral, as well as federally recognized, plebiscite. I have ultimate admiration for the people of Puerto Rico. They are a wonderful people. If the people of Puerto Rico ultimately vote to request admission to the United States of America as a State of the American Union, there will be no stronger defender of their
right to be the 51st American State than me. If they vote to remain in their current status, there will be no stronger defender of their decision than me. And if they vote for independence, there will be no stronger defender of their decision than me. This legislation is a self-determination vehicle, and I support self-determination. I support democracy everywhere. The Puerto Rican people should be able to decide their permanent status themselves.
The House last addressed this issue in 1998. I remember, Mr. Speaker, that I had the honor of chairing that debate in the House when H.R. 856, the United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act, after much leadership and advocacy by Resident Commissioner Romero-Barcelo, was brought to the floor under a Republican majority.
I was a member of the Rules Committee at that time, and I am proud to say that our majority, the Republican majority, allowed that bill to proceed under an open rule, a rule that allows Members from both parties to have their amendments to the legislation debated on the House floor without having to get approval from the Rules Committee. This is an important issue, and if there's ever been legislation that deserves an open debate process, it's this legislation.
I remind the House of the process that we used when we were the majority because today the current majority has decided to restrict debate on this issue, on this very same issue that we allowed an open debate process on in 1998. And not only on this legislation, but on every piece of legislation brought before this Congress. This majority has not allowed any open rules, any open debate process in over 2 1/2 years. Since they regained the majority, they have allowed only one open rule, apart
from appropriations bills. And even on appropriations bills, they have restricted debate.
Now I disagree with some of the amendments that were presented before the Rules Committee yesterday, and if, by chance, the majority would have allowed their consideration by the full Congress, I would have voted against those amendments. I may have even debated against those amendments. But just because I disagree with amendments that were brought before the Rules Committee, asking the Rules Committee to allow consideration by the full House does not mean that I believe that those Members of
the House do not deserve the right to be heard. I believe the House should be allowed to work its will.
Now, unlike the current majority, I believe in open debate. Let amendments stand or fall on their merits. Just about every week I have the honor to come to the floor of this House to help manage rules debates on behalf of my party, and pretty much every time I come to the floor, I criticize the current majority for systematically blocking open debate with ruthless efficiency on every bill that we consider. Even on appropriations bills, which have long been brought to the floor under a tradition
of open rules, they blocked debate. Today they could have easily upheld the tradition set by the Republican majority to allow an open debate on the extremely important issue of Puerto Rico's political status; yet the current majority, they can't bear to do something so abhorrent to them, to permit an open debate process. They cling, Mr. Speaker, they cling to their modus operandi, restricting debate, restricting debate. So they've done so again today.
Now, that doesn't negate the historic nature of what the Congress of the United States is doing today. Today whatever the outcome of this legislation, Congress will send its greeting, [Page: H3021]
its support and admiration for the wonderful people of ``La Isla del Encanto,'' Puerto Rico.
I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. RAHALL. Mr. Chairman, I yield the balance of my time to the people's representative from Puerto Rico (Mr. Pierluisi).
The CHAIR. The gentleman from Puerto Rico is recognized for 4 minutes.