New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) took a portion of his daily coronavirus press briefing on Thursday to blasting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s suggestions that struggling states and cities should go bankrupt rather than seek federal assistance in another relief bill.
“If there was ever a time to stop your obsessive political bias and anger, which is what it’s morphed into … now is the time,” Cuomo said. “And you want to divide this nation now – with all that’s going on? How irresponsible, and how reckless.”
McConnell’s office referred to the notion of federal assistance as “blue state bailouts” in a press release.
On Hugh Hewitt’s radio show on Wednesday, McConnell said, “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. My guess is their first choice would be for the federal government to borrow money from future generations to send it down to them now so they don’t have to do that. That’s not something I’m going to be in favor of.”
He said is an issue is state pension liabilities.
“There’s not going to be any desire on the Republican side to bail out state pensions by borrowing money from future generations,” McConnell said.
But Cuomo said that McConnell’s comments were “vicious.” He called the idea that states should just declare bankruptcy one of the “really dumb ideas of all time,” noting that state and local money is used to pay the salaries of first responders, teachers and schools.
During his briefing, 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 are Democratic states. Don’t help New York State because it is a Democratic state. How ugly a thought?
Cuomo continued, “Just think of what he’s saying: People die – 15,000 people died in New York, but they were predominantly Democrats – ‘so why should we help them’? I mean, for crying out, if the 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. It’s just not who we are as a people.”
State and local funding is not included in the latest coronavirus relief package, which includes hundreds of billions to replenish a small business loan program as well as more money for hospitals and testing. The $484 billion legislation is expected to pass the House on Thursday and signed later in the day by President Donald Trump.
Cuomo suggested that it was a mistake not to include money for state and local governments in the package. House and Senate Democratic leaders have said that they will now turn to pressing for such relief in the next coronavirus legislation.
“How do you not fund police and fire and teachers and schools in the midst of this crisis?” Cuomo said.
Cuomo also objected to the idea that the relief to states would be a “blue state bailout.”
He said that McConnell “represents the state of Kentucky, OK? When it comes to fairness, New York State puts much more money into the federal pot than it takes out? At the end of the year, we put into that federal pot $166 billion more than we take out? His state, the state of Kentucky, takes out a billion more than they put in.
“So he’s a federal legislator, he’s distributing the federal of money. New York puts in more money to the federal pot than it takes out; his state takes out more than it puts in. 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 comments also triggered some outrage among Republicans. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) also sharply criticized McConnell, calling him the “Marie Antoinette of the Senate.”
Unlike the federal government, states must balance their budgets each year. As states have faced shortfalls in previous recessions, they have often done so through a combination of layoffs and budget cuts, tax increases and new bond issues.
Other prominent Republicans expressed agreement with McConnell’s remarks. Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, wrote on Twitter, “States should always plan for a rainy day just like any business. I disagree that states should take Fed money or be bailed out. This will lead to taxpayers paying for mismanagement of poorly run states. States need to tighten up, make some cuts, and manage.”
Erik Pedersen contributed to this report.