GOP senator blocks more flexibility for state and local governments amid coronavirus

GOP senator blocks more flexibility for state and local governments amid coronavirus
© Greg Nash

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) blocked an attempt by Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) to pass legislation that would have provided state and local governments with more flexibility in how they are able to use coronavirus relief money but included no new funding.

Kennedy's bill would let states whose budgets have been decimated by the coronavirus outbreak use money they received as part of the $150 billion allocated in March's $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package for revenue replacement.

It would not, however, allow states to use the money toward pension programs — a key issue for Republicans leery of providing states more leeway on how they use the federal dollars. 

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"My bill would not appropriate any new money. ... My bill would say in respect to the $150 billion dollars that this Congress ... has already appropriated to help state governments and local governments . ...My bill would just say they can use that money for operating expenses," Kennedy said. 

Kennedy said passing his bill would "make it unnecessary to appropriate new money."

But Scott — who has warned repeatedly about "bailouts" for states — blocked Kennedy's request.  

"While I understand the spirit of my colleague's proposal I am very concerned that removing the important limitations ... would siphon resources away from the coronavirus response efforts," Scott said from the Senate floor. 

How to deal with funding for state and local governments has emerged as a point of tension among Republicans, who have fractured over how much flexibility to provide.

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Hours before the floor drama, Scott walked into the GOP lunch on Thursday carrying a sign warning against blue state "bailouts."  

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntHillicon Valley: Facebook considers political ad ban | Senators raise concerns over civil rights audit | Amazon reverses on telling workers to delete TikTok Advocacy groups pressure Senate to reconvene and boost election funding GOP senators voice confidence over uphill Senate battle MORE (R-Mo.), a member of Senate leadership, told reporters this week that he was not supportive of letting states direct coronavirus aid money toward revenue replacement. 

"I don’t think that revenue replacement is the best way for us to respond to states. I do think states have unique bonding ability now through this new program the Fed is setting up where they can replace their own revenue and over a period of a decade or two pay off that low-interest bond. I think that makes more sense than the federal government giving the states money that we don’t have to replace money they don’t have," Blunt told reporters. 

But several GOP senators say they support more flexibility on how states can use the $150 billion already appropriated by Congress, and others support passing more funding for state and local governments. 

Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyKoch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads How will American cities avoid economic catastrophe? Why drug costs for older Americans should be capped in pandemic's wake MORE (R-La.) has teamed up with Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBottom line Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads Thomas Kean wins GOP primary to take on Rep. Tom Malinowski MORE (D-N.J.) to introduce a bill that would provide state and local governments with $500 billion. Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMore Republicans should support crisis aid for the Postal Service GOP senators voice confidence over uphill Senate battle Republicans considering an outdoor stadium for Florida convention: report MORE (R-Maine) told reporters she is talks with Cassidy

“I have made suggestions that we avoid the  Schumer-type provision that was included in the first tranche of state aid that discriminated against rural states,” she said, referencing Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerWells Fargo told employees to delete TikTok from work phones Democrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' A renewed emphasis on research and development funding is needed from the government MORE (D-N.Y.) and arguing the $2.2 trillion CARES Act “created a Treasury loan facility that was only available to entities, communities, or counties or boroughs with populations of 500,000 or more.”

The National Governors Association is asking for an additional $500 billion, with the money being able to be directed toward revenue replacement. Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi70 progressive groups call for next Foreign Affairs chair to reflect 'progressive realism' House to vote next week on ridding Capitol of Confederate statues Eye on gavel, Wasserman Schultz proposes panel on racial inequality in spending MORE (D-Calif.) has estimated that state and local governments could need roughly $1 trillion.