William Cummings USA TODAY
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell drew scathing criticism from a Republican lawmaker Wednesday for saying he would prefer to see states file for bankruptcy than receive additional federal funds as they struggle to cover the costs of combatting the coronavirus outbreak.
Republican Rep. Peter King of New York blasted McConnell’s for his comment in a tweet Wednesday night. He equated the senator from Kentucky’s statement to the last queen of France’s infamous (and apocryphal) “let them eat cake” response to the plight of starving peasants.
“McConnell’s dismissive remark that States devastated by Coronavirus should go bankrupt rather than get the federal assistance they need and deserve is shameful and indefensible,” King said. “To say that it is ‘free money’ to provide funds for cops, firefighters and healthcare workers makes McConnell the Marie Antoinette of the Senate.”
King was not the only politician to put McConnell’s statement in historical terms.
“That is one of the saddest, really dumb comments of all time,” Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo told public radio station WAMC.
“Let’s have all the states declare bankruptcy. That’s the way to bring the national economy back,” Cuomo said sarcastically. “When are they going to stop with the partisanship? Not even on life and death? I mean, it’s so ridiculous.”
The virus has hit New York harder than any other state, killing more than 23, 06 people there and infecting more than , 06. Cuomo has estimated the crisis could mean the state will lose $ – $ billion in tax revenue.
Connecticut’s Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont also compared McConnell to Antoinette.
“Marie Antoinette said let them eat cake – Mitch McConnell said maybe let them file for bankruptcy,” Lamont told reporters.
Current law permits local, but not state governments, to file for bankruptcy. Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt asked McConnell if he would support a change to allow states to file for bankruptcy after some of them are “smashed up” by the pandemic. Hewitt singled out states with Democratic governors where he said they “have just given money away for years to people who aren’t working.”
“Yeah, I would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route. It saves some cities. And there’s no good reason for it not to be available, McConnell replied. He said he was opposed to approving more money to help state and local governments respond to the pandemic in a fourth stimulus package that is being considered.
“We all represent states. We all have governors regardless of party who would love to have free money,” McConnell said. “There’s not going to be any desire on the Republican side to bail out state pensions by borrowing money from future generations.”
In a press release on the Hewitt interview, McConnell’s office summarized the senator’s remarks under the headline, “Stopping Blue State Bailouts.”
Later Wednesday, McConnell told Fox News that he not opposed to helping states “with anything related to coronavirus” but he wanted Congress to take a pause before approving more money. He said they had to consider “the future potential damage of the country by adding $ 2.7 trillion to the national debt.”
“We’re not interested in revenue replacement for state governments,” he said. “We’re not interested in them solving their pension problems or all these other things that they would like for us to finance.”
McConnell’s position contrasts with some of his Republican Senate colleagues such as Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio. Portman told his state’s county commissioners on Wednesday that “one of the biggest policy specify” the Senate needs to address “is the need for robust and flexible funding for state and local governments.”
“We need to do more to help state and local governments affected by this crisis and that the next package should provide additional assistance,” Portman said.
“I believe local and county governments should be granted increased flexibility on how they can use the funds previously approved in the CARES Act, including as replacement for lost revenue,” he added.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican whose state of Louisiana has been hit hard by the outbreak told USA TODAY he also had major reservations about McConnell’s idea.
“I don’t think the municipal bond market would like that, because the cost of borrowing would go up tremendously for lots of localities,” Cassidy said.
He also did not believe “anybody imagines states will be made entirely whole” from the economic devastation left in the pandemic’s wake. He pointed to New Orleans where “all the tourism is gone,” and the sales tax and hotel tax on which it depends has dried up.
“Now, you’ve still got to pay your police to open up the city. You’ve got to pay your sanitation workers to take away the garbage. Fire department to provide protection, “Cassidy said. “So how is the small business going to reopen if you don’t have fire? You don’t have police? You don’t have sanitation? It’s going to be very difficult, if not impossible.”
Cassidy repeated his opposition to the idea during an MSNBC interview on Thursday and suggested it was just a “negotiating ploy” for McConnell to use against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer.
After Cuomo visited the White House Tuesday, President Donald Trump said they discussed the need for the federal government to give the states more financial assistance.
“I agree with him on that. And I think most Republicans agree too, and Democrats. And that’s part of phase four,” Trump said.
Contributing: Maureen Groppe
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