Washington — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo angrily denounced Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for suggesting states facing a budget crisis spurred by the coronavirus pandemic should declare bankruptcy, calling it one of the "really dumb ideas of all time."
Cuomo, a Democrat, has been pushing Congress to approve federal relief to cash-strapped state and local governments reeling from the coronavirus outbreak, as their economies have been brought to a halt with most businesses closed and residents under mandatory stay-at-home orders.
But McConnell has rebuffed efforts from congressional Democrats to direct billions more in federal aid to state and local governments, beyond a $150 billion fund established by last month's CARES Act to cover costs incurred by the coronavirus. The latest emergency relief billby the Senate after two weeks of negotiations — with the House voting Thursday — does not include new money for states.
"Not to fund state and local governments is incredibly short-sighted," Cuomo said at his daily press briefing on Thursday. "They want to fund small business, fund the airlines. I understand that. But state and local government funds police and fire and teachers and schools. How do you not fund police and fire and teachers and schools in the midst of this crisis?"
"Yes, airlines are important. Yes, small business is important," he added. "So are police and fire and health care workers who are the frontline workers. And when you don't fund the state, then the state can't fund those services."
Cuomo said that while Republicans claim to be worried about the state of the economy, urging states to declare bankruptcy, which they cannot currently do, would damage the country's fiscal health.
"States should declare bankruptcy? That's how you're going to bring this national economy back?" Cuomo said. "You want to see that market fall through the cellar? Let New York state declare bankruptcy. Let Michigan declare bankruptcy. Let Illinois declare bankruptcy. Let California declare bankruptcy. You will see a collapse of this national economy."
Cuomo was responding to comments McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, made to radio host Hugh Hewitt about Congress assisting state and local governments in future legislative packages.
"I think this whole business of additional assistance for state and local governments need to be thoroughly evaluated," McConnell said. "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."
The senator said he would "certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route."
Cuomo also took umbrage with a press release from McConnell's highlighting his remarks to Hewitt, which characterized federal assistance to states as "blue state bailouts." Many of the states that have been hardest hit by the coronavirus are those run by Democratic governors.
"Vicious is saying what Senator McConnell said, this is a 'blue state bailout,'" Cuomo said. "What he's saying is if you look at the states that have coronavirus problems, they tend to be Democratic states. New York, California, Michigan, Illinois, they are Democratic states, so if you fund states that are suffering from the coronavirus, they're Democratic states. 'Don't help New York state because it is a Democratic state.' How ugly a thought."
Cuomo said it is time to "stop your political obsessive, political bias and anger."
"I mean, for crying out loud, if there was ever a time for you to put aside your pettiness and your partisanship and this political lens that you see the world through — Democrat and Republican, and we help Republicans but we don't help Democrats — that's not who we are," he said.
Cuomo also took a jab at McConnell's home state of Kentucky, pointing out that New York contributes $116 billion to the federal budget, while Kentucky accepts $148 billion more from the federal government than it contributes.
"New York puts in more money to the federal pot than it takes out. His state takes out more than it puts in," he said. "Senator McConnell, who's getting bailed out here? It's your state that is living on the money that we generate. Your state is getting bailed out, not my state."
McConnell's remarks also drew the ire of New York Congressman Pete King, a Republican, who called
them "dismissive" and said McConnell is the "Marie Antoinette of the Senate."
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said the suggestion states should file for bankruptcy "completely and utterly irresponsible."
"My breath is taken away. I have almost nothing to say to what I read that Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said earlier today," Murphy, a Democrat, said during his daily briefing Wednesday. "Really? This is the time, in a moment of crisis unlike any our country has faced in at least 100 years, to suggest it's a good thing for states to go bankrupt?"
While McConnell has indicated his opposition to assisting state and local governments in additional emergency relief bills, he may not have the support of President Trump.
Mr. Trump said on Twitter on Tuesday that after signing the latest package into law, "we will begin discussions on the next Legislative Initiative with fiscal relief to State/Local Governments for lost revenues from COVID 19."
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