Senate Republicans on Wednesday blasted $350 billion in state and local aid in President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill, singling out those funds as “wasteful” amid a California rail project being cut from the bill after it became the face of alleged “pork.”
The GOP attack on state and local aid comes ahead of a protracted struggle over amendments to the bill, which is expected to pass the Senate this week with few if any Republican votes.
The Republicans’ statements follow the Tuesday night removal of a $140 million rail project near House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco district that critics decried as unrelated to the pandemic.
The Senate parliamentarian said the rail project and a smaller $1.5 million appropriation for the Seaway International Bridge in Massena, New York, weren’t acceptable under special budget reconciliation rules that allow for bare majority support in the Senate rather than the usual 60-vote supermajority.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday he was hopeful that there would be additional cuts to the package before it passes.
“According to public reports, right now as we speak several of our Democratic colleagues are frantically trying to trim back other crazy provisions,” McConnell said.
The less-flashy state and local aid is equally unnecessary, Republican senators said, arguing that the funds would bail out Democratic local governments or allow them to increase spending.
“The notion that our states and municipalities are in some kind of fiscal crisis is just — couldn’t be more wrong. It’s just factually untrue,” said Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) at an afternoon press conference.
“In fact, amazingly enough, the numbers are in now for 2020. State and local tax collections were actually $20 billion higher than 2019. And 2019 was an all time record for revenue.”
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said that the bill would contribute to inflation, causing unintended consequences for poor families when household items and groceries increase in price.
“It’s not about COVID — less than 2 percent of the bill is going to deal with COVID. Less 1 percent is going to deal with vaccines,” Scott said.
House Republicans led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) previously attacked the state and local aid, citing the bill’s estimated $40 billion in aid for California, despite a recent $10 billion budget surplus.
Scott also cited aid for California despite increasing revenue and said some states and cities have unspent funds from $400 billion in prior federal pandemic aid.
“I mean $350 billion, we can’t waste the money. We have $27 trillion worth of debt. If the Democrats pass this bill, it’ll be $30 trillion worth of debt,” Scott said.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said that for Democratic state governments, “it is like manna from Heaven for them. They have pensions that are not funded. They have state governments that have not been well managed. And so now they’re looking to the federal government to come in and bail them out.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday defended state and local funds, pointing to layoffs last year.
“To throw some data back at you, 1.3 million state and local government jobs have been lost since the beginning of the pandemic. The people we’re listening to are the 400 mayors, Democrats and Republicans, who have conveyed clearly that they need assistance, they need funding to ensure that they can keep cops on the beat, they can keep firefighters employed, and they can keep state and local governments functioning,” Psaki said.
“Let me add one more statistic, sorry: 32 states have revenue shortfalls compared to last year. So it’s clear there is a need out there. And we are not going to recover from this pandemic tomorrow.”
New York City is expected to receive about $5.6 billion if the bill passes. The New York state government would get about $12.7 billion, according to estimates released by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).
Some details in the bill have been subject to late-breaking changes driven by more conservative Democrats who hold immense power in the evenly divided Senate. On Wednesday, Biden signed off on lowering the income cap for people getting stimulus checks from $100,000 to $80,000.
The bill includes $1,400 stimulus checks for adults earning up to $75,000 per year, with smaller checks for people up to $80,000. For each dependent child, the bill authorizes an extra $1,400 payment. It grants through August a $400-per-week federal unemployment insurance subsidy.