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Santorum's Puerto Rico history - Print View

Santorum's Puerto Rico history
By: Juana Summers
March 17, 2012 04:19 PM EDT
BAYAMON, Puerto Rico — Earlier this week, Rick Santorum raised eyebrows while campaigning here by bragging that he used to be called “Senador Puertorriqueño” while in Congress.
It’s a strange turn of phrase for a former House member and ex-senator from Pennsylvania who ignited controversy this week by declaring that the local government would need to require that residents speak English before Puerto Rico could become a U.S. state.
It turns out that Santorum and Puerto Rico did have a warm relationship relationship while he served in the Senate. Although the former lawmaker has since recanted his support for the overall bill, Santorum voted for — and at the time championed — the 2003 Medicare overhaul, including a costly amendment to increase Medicare reimbursement rates for Puerto Rican hospitals.
He worked at the time with now-Gov. Luis Fortuño, who was then the island’s resident commissioner in Washington, D.C. and the two even attended the same Catholic church.
Fortuño is not really repaying the friendship: he’s backing Mitt Romney in tomorrow’s presidential primary here, but the governor did visit with Santorum earlier this week and once had kind words for the former senator.
“I am grateful for Senator Santorum’s continued leadership and support, not just on the Puerto Rico Medicare issue, but on all issues affecting the 4 million U.S. citizens residing on the island,” Fortuño said in an April 2005 statement. “Given Puerto Rico’s lack of representation in the U.S. Senate, we count on friends like Senator Santorum and Senator Landrieu to champion issues on behalf of the people of Puerto Rico.”
But following the English-only kerfuffle, Fortuño took a swipe this week at his old friend.
“I would have handled the question differently – quite differently – from Senator Santorum because I would have been clear that there are two official languages here,” Fortuño told POLITICO. “I don’t know why he said what he said, but at the end of the day, I think it’s a states rights issue as well.”
Nonetheless, Santorum insisted this week that he once worked hard for Puerto Rican residents, who don’t have any formal representation in Congress, only a non-voting delegate.
“I was referred to by many in my state as Senador Puertorriqueño,” Santorum said in San Juan. “They used to make fun of me. ‘Why are you representing Puerto Rico’? Well, someone has to because they don’t have a voice…I felt a responsibility to the island.”
Santorum said he worked with former Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Rosselló and raised relief funds for victims of 1998’s Hurricane Georges, the storm that roared into Puerto Rico, and toured the island to assess the damage, before helping the island receive more federal funding.
“That’s when my relationship with the island began,” Santorum told reporters. “It’s the U.S. president’s responsibility to listen to the voice of all Americans including its territories. Puerto Rico is an important part of the U.S. and I will assume [the] responsibility of representing all Americans.”
Campaigning here this week, he also touted his efforts to secure Medicare reimbursements for Puerto Rican citizens, from 2003 to 2005, a measure on which he partnered with then-resident commissioner Fortuño.
Health care providers in the island were upset that Medicare payouts were less generous for them than in the 50 U.S. states.
While the Medicare reimbursement formula was altered, it was done so less extensively than Santorum had sought. According to a New York Times report, a Santorum amendment increasing reimbursement rates would have cost as much as $400 million over 10 years.
Santorum sponsored two Medicare-reform bills that would have benefited United Health Services, a Pennsylvania-based health management company with services in Puerto Rico, according to the Times article.
Furthermore, the Times reported, after Santorum left the Senate in 2007, he joined the board of United Health Services, earning $395,000 in stock options and director’s fees before he resigned prior to his presidential run.
The Santorum campaign did not immediately return requests for comment, but addressing the issue on Laura Ingraham’s show in January, Santorum said: “I mean, is that somehow nefarious? I am very proud of that work; I am very proud of that company. You know, I have to work! And I have certain skills that I can bring to the table and certain experiences. I don’t apologize for all that work.”
Puerto Rico Sen. Kimmie Raschke, a Santorum backer, predicted that the former senator would win Sunday’s primary, buoyed by his strong support for the island in the past.
“Santorum has the momentum. He is the candidate who both represents our values and knows how to confront the big problems facing the nation. We know Santorum will be a great ally for equal rights for Puerto Ricans,” Raschke said.
Santorum's Puerto Rico history - Print View