WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – The Republican divide in the Senate continues over whether to provide further coronavirus relief to state and local governments.
Even professed fiscal conservatives are finding themselves on opposite sides of the debate.
“Let my people vote,” proclaimed Sen. John Kennedy, R-LA, on the Senate floor.
Kennedy, Louisiana’s former treasurer, has been trying to get the Senate to act on his latest bill. It would allow state and local governments to use the $150 billion Congress has already approved for coronavirus response for general operating expenses and remove the expiration date on the funds.
“If you don’t like it, you can chew it up, spit it out and step on it, and vote no in front of God and country,” Kennedy said. “But if you like it, you can vote for it.”
Kennedy presented the idea with other Senate Republicans to President Trump at the White House this week. Kennedy called the meeting very positive, and the president is reportedly interested in the legislation.
However, Florida’s former governor, Sen. Rick Scott, R-FL, has repeatedly blocked Kennedy’s efforts on the Senate floor.
“We are bailing out liberal politicians who cannot live within their means, and now we are asking Floridians to pay for the incompetency of governors like Andrew Cuomo,” Scott said.
Kennedy said the bill prohibits officials from diverting the money to shore up pension funds, but Scott isn’t buying it.
Another sticking point for some Republicans is that the legislation would allow states to use the funds for construction projects.
Scott also argues Congress has provided even more than $150 billion to state and local governments indirectly by supporting things like small businesses, unemployment benefits and disaster funds.
“Regardless of whether we’re removing the existing guard rails or talking about completely new funding, both actions would result in a blank check bailout for states,” Scott said.
Other senators are working to give state and local governments additional coronavirus relief. Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-LA, and Bob Menendez, D-NJ, have introduced a bill that would provide the entities with $500 billion that would be distributed over time based on population, infection rate and economic impact.
“Somehow states and cities have got to find the money by which they can keep essential services open,” Cassidy said. “If you don’t have the police, the garbage, the fire to support your small business, the small business can’t be open.”
On Friday, the House will vote on Democrats’ HEROES Act, which includes about $1 trillion more for state and local governments.
“Republican governors, Democratic governors, the League of Cities, the county executives, the state executives all agree that this is really necessary,” said Rep. Mike Levin, D-CA.
Kennedy said the House plan has no chance of passing the Senate, but his legislation may be able to pass both chambers.
“It’ll make a difference if the president supports it,” he said. “That would likely mean Sen. McConnell will let my bill be heard.”
Kennedy expects the White House decision to come down within the next week.