Red states need coronavirus bailouts, too
It is both odd and concerning that leading Republicans — particularly President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — are casting the idea of coronavirus aid to states and cities as "Blue State Bailouts." The idea that Democratic-run states are struggling and Republican states are thriving is false. There is plenty of pain to go around.
Indeed, my home state of Kansas, which gave Trump its six electoral votes in 2016 and is by no means a blue state, now has a $1.3 billion hole in its budget thanks to the pandemic. We're not the only ones in trouble. Missouri officials are trying to find $700 million in cuts to their budget. Texas officials are contemplating an immediate 5 percent across-the-board cut to state agencies. Pennsylvania is facing a whopping $4 billion shortfall. Each of these states' legislature is controlled by Republicans. Each state gave its electoral votes to Trump in 2016.
Still, on Monday the president tweeted: "Why should the people and taxpayers of America be bailing out poorly run states (like Illinois, as example) and cities, in all cases Democrat run and managed, when most of the other states are not looking for bailout help? I am open to discussing anything, but just asking?"
He was following the example of McConnell, who popularized the term "Blue State Bailout" in order to rouse opposition to the notion of helping state and local governments, and suggested states consider bankruptcy instead. (They can't.) Meanwhile, his own very red home state of Kentucky is facing a substantial revenue shortfall, as well.
"The number of Kentuckians that have enrolled in unemployment, the shutting down of sales tax collections across the state, extending the filing deadline on income taxes … it will have major impacts on state government," state Rep. Steven Rudy, a Republican, told the Louisville Courier Journal.
Failing to aid state governments — red or blue — would probably deepen and extend the recession that has accompanied the pandemic. It would also force states to cut services that their constituents need. "There is little reason to believe that the value of these services, such as education, transportation, and public safety, falls during economic downturns," the Brookings Institution noted in a recent analysis. Making the fallout from the pandemic worse can't be good for Republican officeholders who want to retain control of the White House and Senate next fall. So why are Trump and McConnell creating such unnecessary division?
One theory suggests McConnell is more interested in helping the GOP defeat Democrats in states like New York rather than helping his own ostensible constituents. Others surmise that McConnell simply wants to crush public sector unions that rely on state and local governments for employment. But Trump is involved, which means the president might simply be reverting to his old and well-honed instinct to separate everybody into "us" and "them." And McConnell has never met a political challenge that couldn't be solved by simply saying "no" and refusing to act. Screwing over blue states — even at a cost to red states — would be entirely in character for the pair.
But Republican governors aren't much interested in sacrificing their states for the sake of the GOP's culture war politics. "These are well-run states," said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, whose own state faces a $2.8 billion shortfall. "There are just as many Republicans as Democrats that strongly support" a bailout.
McConnell is showing signs of softening, but in some ways the damage is done. Rather than simply help states and municipalities, he — along with Trump — decided to stir up trouble at a moment of crisis. That is cynical and wrong. There is no such thing as a "Blue State Bailout." Red states need help, too.
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