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U.S. Treasury official: Puerto Rico's survival at stake

By Ed Adamczyk Follow @adamczyk_ed Contact the Author   |   Updated Feb. 26, 2016 at 8:56 AM

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- A U.S. Treasury Department official has called for "strong, independent" federal oversight of Puerto Rico's financial crisis in order to secure the territory's survival.

Antonio Weiss, counselor to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and the department's third-ranking member, outlined the administration's plans Thursday to rescue the U.S. territory from its $70 billion debt load and debt payments in May and June. He provided testimony Thursday before the House Natural Resources Committee.

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"This is a lifesaving procedure that we are discussing. Puerto Rico's very survival is at stake," Weiss said.

"The governor has already been forced to curtail services. As the debt payments become larger, as the most senior debt becomes due ... the decisions become more difficult," Weiss said.

He added that a default would result in litigation between competing creditors, which could complicate economic progress in Puerto Rico for a decade. He called for a restructuring of bond obligations for the territory, which has no bankruptcy protection and 18 different bonds with varying legal protections.

Weiss urged the committee to authorize a "strong, independent federal oversight" board to deal with Puerto Rico's "longstanding history of fiscal management and inadequate financial disclosure."

House Speaker Paul Ryan has set a deadline of March 30 to address Puerto Rico's financial issues.

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