GOP Rep. Pete King to buck party, vote for Democrats’ coronavirus relief bill

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) said he plans to buck party lines and vote in favor of the $3 trillion coronavirus relief package proposed by House Democrats and slated to come to the floor on Friday, the New York Times first reported Wednesday.

King — who represents one of the hardest-hit districts in the state and is set to retire at the end of this term — said while there are provisions that give him pause, he feels it’s critical that Congress provide funding for state and local governments that have been disproportionately affected by the deadly virus. The New York Republican also said the language to eliminate the $10,000 cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction for 2020 and 2021 factored into his decision to back the measure.

“In some ways it’s a tough decision and in some ways it’s an easy decision,” King told The Hill. 

“Look, I disagree with a lot of things that are in that bill: some of the provisions involving illegal immigrants, some of the absentee ballots, the mail, all that stuff. But the fact is, to me, [Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell [R-Ky.] sort of laid it down … he’s talking about no federal aid to state and local governments. New York is going to die, my county, Nassau County, [and] Suffolk County is also in my district; not only are they running up tremendous cost, their revenue losses are unbelievable.”

New York is the state hardest hit by coronavirus, with more than 340,000 confirmed cases and more than 27,000 deaths. 

Funding for state and local governments has emerged as a key issue for the next round of coronavirus legislation, with governors arguing they need federal help as the pandemic forces them to increase spending on services while taking a heavy hit to revenue. Some Republicans have countered that such funding would amount to “blue state bailouts.” 

King said he believes the pandemic should be treated as a natural disaster, calling for adequate funding to be provided to the areas that have seen the highest number of cases. 

“If we don’t get [money] at the state level, county level, city levels … if we don’t get the federal funding, which we give whenever there’s a natural disaster — we gave it after [Hurricane] Katrina, the only time we had to fight for it was during [Hurricane] Sandy — but this is a natural disaster, and the money has to come in,” he said. 

“To me, it’s a matter of survival, and I know maybe people are concerned about primaries or what party leadership is going to say, but the reality is, you’re elected to Congress [to] represent your district: New York,” he continued. “It’s gotten screwed for so many years, whenever I get a chance to even the score, [I] do it.”

“And in many ways it is life or death,” he added. “I don’t know how New York goes on and all this talk from McConnell and people about unfunded pension funds — that has nothing to do with this.” 

King acknowledged that the bill is dead on arrival in the Senate, but said it should be used as a jumping-off point to negotiate on a measure that can pass both chambers. 

“To me, it’s like war — when you’re at war you spare whatever you have to spend to get to the war then you worry about it later on. So listen, there’s a lot in there that has nothing to do with the virus. I think the Speaker is piling it in there to keep our left-wing base happy — I’m against all that, but [if] that’s the price I have to pay to get funding to keep New York and Nassau County and Suffolk County and New York City alive, then I’ll do that,” he said. “And also a lot of it is going to come out in the Senate.”

House Democrats unveiled the 1,815-page bill on Tuesday, arguing that it’s a necessary step in helping the country stay afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic.  

GOP leadership has come out heavily against the legislation, calling it a “grab bag of far-left ideas,” and blasting Democratic leadership for opting not to include Republicans in the negotiation. McConnell has called for a “pause” on coronavirus legislation altogether while lawmakers examine the effects of the previous packages.

It’s unclear how many other GOP lawmakers plan to break with the party on the measure, but sources familiar with the House GOP’s whip count said they expect minimal defections on the measure.

It’s also unclear how many moderates that represent the hardest-hit states are considering breaking party lines, with Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), a co-chairman of the centrist Tuesday Group, saying he remains undecided on the bill. 

But others, including Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), the co-chairman of the Problem Solvers Caucus, and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), a retiring moderate whose state has been heavily impacted by the pandemic, said they plan to vote against the measure, citing issues with the levels of spending and the lack of negotiation.

“Hard no. Just a partisan exercise which is so frustrating given the crisis we are in,” Reed told The Hill. “But it is D.C., and I guess the partisanship had to return — too bad.”

“While we all realize more help is needed, it’s unfortunate that the Speaker chose a completely partisan, rushed approach. Didn’t have to be this way, shouldn’t be this way,” Walden added. “We should evaluate what we’ve done and how that’s worked or not, and then work together on what makes sense for the next phase.”

“The country is in real trouble and there’s no time for these one-sided approaches,” he continued. “Too much is at stake.”

Updated at 10:39 p.m.

Tags Coronavirus Greg Walden John Katko Mitch McConnell Pete King Tom Reed

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