SAN JUAN — "I want to stress this upon you," Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello told reporters gathered at his office in San Juan on Saturday morning. "Our narrative is different from previous narratives."
Rossello, a Democrat who's surprisingly fluent in the language of fiscal conservatism, took great pains to emphasize his administration's emphasis on implementing tough reforms. "We are assuming responsibility. We are taking hard measures here in Puerto Rico in order to have a path forward," Rossello said. "But we also need a runway. We just arrived and it can't just be the cliff right now."
The 38-year-old first term governor pushed back on language President Trump used in a Thursday tweet about negotiations over legislation to avoid a government shutdown. After House Democrats attempted to push for payments covering a Medicaid shortfall in Puerto Rico, the president referred to the measure as a "bailout." On Saturday, Rossello insisted that characterization was unfair, explaining, "What we're asking for in terms of Puerto Rico and for health on the Medicaid cliff is not a bailout."
To the contrary, he contended the funding is "essentially the continuation of what was also given to the states, which is much less in Puerto Rico, so that we can have an opportunity to negotiate with the MCOs [Medicaid Managed Care Organizations]..."
"Otherwise," Rossello said, "if we don't get that funding, we don't get the opportunity to negotiate with the MCOs, the complete system essentially collapses."
"In order for us to … have the runway to lift, we need that capital," he argued.
Without money from Congress, the governor believes a system-wide collapse will cause Puerto Ricans' mass exodus from the island to escalate, leaving the federal government with an estimated $26 billion in additional costs over the next 15 years as his citizens flock north to states like Florida and New York.
Rossello, who stressed that his administration is making $300 million cuts and reducing administrative costs, indicated that many in Washington are sympathetic to his argument. "Secretary Price understands it, several members in the Senate understand it, and quite frankly it's an initiative from the Trump administration that understands it," he explained.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.