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EFERENDUM CONGRESSIONAL COMPROMISE DEADLINE

Executive Summary

EFERENDUM CONGRESSIONAL COMPROMISE DEADLINE of Feb. 19 is set by the commonwealth's leading political party as a condition of its continued support of a status referendum in 1991. In a resolution adopted Nov. 17, the Popular Democratic Party stipulates that if "the congressional leadership introduces a consensus bill by Feb. 19, 1991, the Popular Democratic Party will participate in a plebiscite in 1991. If the consensus bill is agreed to at a later date, the plebiscite will have to be held after 1992." Puerto Rico Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon had included support for a 1991 referendum in his 1988 Popular Democratic campaign platform. Near the close of the last Congress, separate bills were pending in the House and Senate to provide for a Puerto Rico vote on self-determination but a key Senate leader on the issue, Energy Committee Chairman Johnston (D-La.) said the bills were too different to resolve by the end of the term ("The Pink Sheet" Oct. 15, T&G-1). As a result, Hernandez Colon asked for a reading from his party on whether to try to force Congress into quick action or to abandon the 1991 referendum goal altogether. The party's action is a gamble with the downside that Congress may lack incentive to continue work on the referendum legislation if the February deadline is not met. Johnston has previously maintained that if a legislative proposal is enacted fairly early in 1991, there would still be time for a 1992 vote. The Senate bill that died in the 101st Congress would have required no additional congressional action to implement the voters' choice, but instead set out a detailed implementation plan for the choices of commonwealth, statehood and independence. Section 936 tax credits for busineses located in Puerto Rico and widely used by the pharmaceutical industry would have been eliminated by 1996 under the statehood or independence option. The House bill was not "self-executing," but instead directed that Congress, in negotiation with Puerto Rico officials, would design an implementation plan only after the referendum was held. Johnston's decision to postpone action was seen by Puerto Rico political leaders not only as weakening the momentum in Congress to address the referendum issue but also as jeopardizing the compromise that the commonwealth's three main political parties had pieced together around the goal of a 1991 vote. In light of his party's new resolution and Sen. Johnston's expected December trip to the Puerto Rico, Gov. Hernandez Colon plans to meet with leaders of the Independence Party and New Progressive Party to determine whether they can still maintain a common strategy in seeking a referendum bill. The Popular Democratic Party -- which has advocated retaining commonwealth status -- believes that a referendum should not be held in 1992 due to the national and state elections that will occur that same year. The Feb. 19 deadline was chosen to signal that the party wants Congress to act quickly but also to give legislators at least a few full days in session to work on the issue. Congress is scheduled to convene Jan. 3 but then recess for more than two weeks, and will also have much of its time taken up with the President's State of the Union Address and other early-session activities.
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