The ink was barely dry on the Senate’s bill to provide an additional $484 billion of Covid-related economic relief when Mitch McConnell fired the first volley of the next battle. On April 21 he appeared on Fox News host Bill Hemmer’s show and said:
“What I’m saying is we’re going to take a pause here, we’re going to wait at least until May 4th which is the time we’re going to have everyone back in the Senate and clearly weigh, before we provide assistance to states and local governments, who would love for us to borrow money from future generations, to make sure that they have no revenue losses.
“Before we make that decision, we’re going to weigh the impact of what we’ve already added to the national debt and make sure that if we provide additional assistance for state and local governments, it’s only for coronavirus related, coronavirus related matters.
“We’re not interested in solving their pension problems for them, we’re not interested in rescuing them from bad decisions they’ve made in the past. We’re not going to let them take advantage of this pandemic to solve a lot of problems that they created for themselves, and bad decisions they made in the past.”
“I said yesterday we’re going to push the pause button here, because I think this whole business of additional assistance for state and local governments needs to be thoroughly evaluated. You raised yourself the important issue of what states have done, many of them have done to themselves with their pension programs. There’s not going to be any desire on the Republican side to bail out state pensions by borrowing money from future generations.”
He went so far as to make the suggestion that in lieu of aid, states should consider bankruptcy:
“I would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route. It’s saved some cities, and there’s no good reason for it not to be available.”
Trump then jumped into the fray, playing both sides of the issue as usual. First he told New York’s Governor Cuomo that he was very open to federal budget aid to states, but several days later tweeted: “Why should the people and taxpayers of America be bailing out poorly run states (like Illinois, as example) and cities, in all cases Democrat run and managed, when most of the other states are not looking for bailout help? I am open to discussing anything, but just asking?” Apparently, conservative media played up the blue-state bailout angle enough to trigger his usual polarize-for-political profit instinct.
Perhaps the most odious comment came from Florida Senator Rick Scott, who said: “It’s not fair to the taxpayers of Florida. We sit here, we live within our means, and then New York, Illinois, California and other states don’t. And we’re supposed to go bail them out?” Considering that Scott’s Columbia/HCA private hospital chain, which he founded and ran, paid $1.7 billion in settlement fines for Medicare and other fraud, it’s a bit galling to hear him talking about what’s fair to taxpayers and what’s not. Moreover, New York State has the largest “balance of payments” deficit with the federal government while Florida has one of the largest surpluses (California and Illinois are roughly in balance).
Of course, the push back against this nonsense was swift. Cuomo slammed McConnell as “reckless” and “irresponsible,” Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy slammed Scott, and retiring Republican congressman Peter King called McConnell “the Marie Antoinette of the Senate.” Paul Krugman, Eric Levitz, and Paul Waldman piled on. Nancy Pelosi said flatly: “We will have state and local and we will have it in a very significant way.”
After making aid to state and local governments a central demand of their negotiations over the third COVID disaster relief bill, it was surprising and disappointing to many Democrats that Chuck Schumer and Pelosi agreed to a bill that included none. With pressure mounting to refund the small business relief program, the Democratic leadership apparently prioritized other demands, including financial aid to hospitals, aid to states and cities for coronavirus testing programs, and set-asides of small business loan program funds for small financial institutions and businesses, while betting that they could win a subsequent battle for state and local fiscal aid. Indeed, there appears to be significant Republican support for state and local aid, even if many Republican officials are laying low so as to not cross Trump and McConnell. In addition to Peter King, for example, Representative John Katko (R-NY) said that phase four had to protect state and local governments, and Republican Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) cosponsored a $500 billion aid bill with Democrat Bob Menendez (D-NJ).Continue reading “That Didn’t Take Long”