You might not be able to snag Hamilton tickets, but you can catch the play’s Pulitzer Prize-winning creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, on last night’s episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight. The playwright joined comedian and host John Oliver to ask the US congress to do something about Puerto Rico’s crippling $70 billion debt crisis.
Oliver begins by explaining the perfect storm of legal loopholes that put the US territory in its current situation. The US government once promised American businesses enormous tax breaks for moving to Puerto Rico, which gave the island a booming pharmaceutical and manufacturing industry—until the US congress got rid of those tax breaks to implement a tax cut in the rest of the nation. In response, the government then started selling Puerto Rico triple-tax-exempt municipal bonds (which are great in the way that ”triple fudge brownies are the best kind of brownies,” Oliver argues).
Even the former governor Luis Fortuno has admitted that Puerto Rico became addicted to buying those bonds. And as Puerto Rico bought more bonds, it fell more in debt—but could never declare bankruptcy because of a tiny amendment to a 1984 law. Meanwhile, cuts to hospitals and other basic services hurt everyday people—who, Oliver reminds us, are American citizens. On top of it all, the commonwealth is now battling the Zika virus. It seems the territory is facing, as Oliver calls it, all the plagues that God deemed too “thinky” for the Bible.
Congress has a bipartisan solution on the table to give Puerto Rico a chance to restructure its debt, but as “vulture” hedge funds (which have bought up much of Puerto Rico’s debt at this point in hopes of turning an easy profit) work to kill the bill, Puerto Rico’s future remains uncertain. To really make his point, Oliver lets a Puerto Rican speak—or rather, rap. Manuel pleads with Congress to extend debt relief to Puerto Rico—even if it means performing Hamilton for speaker Paul Ryan.