U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson said Tuesday that Puerto Rico needs bankruptcy protection and said he will introduce an omnibus bill to help the commonwealth that includes that option.

Grayson, an Orlando Democrat running for the U.S. Senate, said the Republican plan to help Puerto Rico deal with its crippling $72 billion debt crisis amounted to an act of colonial discrimination and said the U.S. territory and its residents need all forms of discrimination stripped away, so they have full rights as American citizens.

On Monday, Puerto Rico defaulted on a $422 million bond payment.

Grayson said the government there should have the right guaranteed to all states in the U.S. Constitution for bankruptcy, and should pursue it to ease the debt pressures that have led to widespread austerity measures.

“Yes. I think it’s a matter of equal protection under the law,” he said.

Grayson is running against U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter and Palm Beach Gardens lawyer Pam Keith for the Democratic primary nomination to seek the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Grayson made his Puerto Rican comments after giving a speech at a senior citizens center, in a mostly Hispanic area of Orlando. In that address, he spoke only of his initiatives to expand Social Security and Medicare.

But afterward, he discussed Puerto Rico.

Grayson’s district is home to more than 100,000 Puerto Rican migrants, and he delivered the speech in the heart of Central Florida’s Puerto Rican community.

“The economic crisis is caused by discrimination. It’s caused by inequality between how we treat Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico and how we treat people in the mainland. And that has led to this debt,” Grayson said.

Grayson said the discrimination extends to health care, federal benefits, taxation, transportation and in bankruptcy protection.

Grayson said he would introduce a bill eliminating all laws discriminating against Puerto Rico, including lifting application of the Jones Act, a 1920 maritime shipping law that many in Puerto Rico said has driven up costs of getting goods to and from the island.

“The solution to inequality is equality. It’s a human right,” he said.

Right now, Republicans in Congress are drafting their own Puerto Rico relief bill that would include an oversight board to determine how the government might pay down its debts. Grayson said that proposal, at least as spelled out in the original draft of the bill, is “colonial” in its approach, saying it would be a matter of the U.S. government dictating what Puerto Rico will or will not do in its economic crisis.

“What we cannot do, what we must not do, is reduce Puerto Rico to colonial status. I’m concerned that the original draft of the oversight board, in essence, put the oversight board above and more powerful than the will of the Puerto Rican people,” he said. “In essence, it would allow Puerto Rican’s will to be thwarted and trumped by an unelected board of mainlanders.”

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