Puerto Rico: 51st Estado?

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WASHINGTON: The people in the House say Si. By the narrowest of margins -- a single vote -- the House of Representatives voiced its approval Wednesday night for a plebiscite that may turn Puerto Rico into the 51st state. More importantly, they did it without any bill-killing riders such as a clause making English the official language of the United States -- a suggestion from Rep. Gerald Solomon that seemed calculated to offend the Spanish-speaking commonwealth. “I’m extremely excited,” said Puerto Rico’s only congressional delegate, Carlos Romero-Barcelo.

Others weren’t so enthusiastic. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Chicago Democrat of Puerto Rican descent, voted no. And he pointed out the main problem the bill now faces: “With the division evidenced here in the House, I don’t believe the Senate will find the time to take up this measure.” Not to mention the Puerto Ricans themselves; in a 1993 plebiscite, which was non-binding, only 46 percent of the islanders favored statehood.

Even if they did vote in favor this time, the final approval comes from Capitol Hill -- and Congress would have to do some serious thinking before bringing the fiscal equivalent of East Germany into the fold. "If Puerto Rico were to become a state," warns TIME Miami Bureau chief Tammerlin Drummond, "it would be poorer than Mississippi." It’ll be a while, at least, before the spangled banner sees another star.