with Brent D. Griffiths
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THE GOVERNOR CONNECTION: Governors insisting they need federal relief to combat massive budget shortfalls inflicted by the coronavirus crisis are finding some allies on Capitol Hill who especially understand their plight: Senators who used to be governors.
These governors-turned-senators are making the case that the additional funding for states is not just necessary but essential to the country's overall economic recovery, as the National Governors Association calls for $500 billion in direct federal aid. They're fighting back against arguments from President Trump, who has sought to depict states requesting aid as fiscally irresponsible blue states, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said last week that states should seek bankruptcy protections instead of a bailout.
Double-whammy: The hit to state tax revenue during social distancing — and increased spending to fight the virus and pay out record levels of unemployment — otherwise leaves dire choices that could inflict deeper damage, the senators say.
- “When you have a sudden and dramatic shortfall in revenue at a state level, you only have two choices,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), a former two-term governor, told us in a phone interview. “You have to raise taxes, which is the worst thing to do in the midst of a recession. Or have very substantial layoffs and cuts.”
Unlike the federal government, states are required to balance their budgets every year and do not have the same borrowing capacity. Forced cuts at this scale could hurt essential government services that citizens need now more than ever, they argue.
- "[States] will have to engage in large scale layoffs that will likely include public safety personnel and health care workers — just at a time where we need health care workers,” Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), a former two-term governor, told Power Up.
- Big cuts “will just add to the hardship we are facing rather than support a recovery,” Hassan adds: “More people unemployed will contribute to a downward economic spiral just at the time we are trying to reopen and restart our economy. It makes no sense from an economic point of view, a constituency services point of view, or a human point of view.”
- “About a third of our budget goes back to our communities in one form or another,” King added about the importance of services that state governments provide. “States are an essential part of the well being of our citizens. People talk about states as if they are this abstract entity but what you are really talking about [with cuts will affect] people who need services from the state level and local level. So it’s a really serious problem."
The half-trillion-dollar question: “A bipartisan bill pushed by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) would provide up to $500 billion for state and local governments,” our colleague Toluse Olorunnipa reports. “That is equivalent to the amount state governments will probably need to cover their shortfalls over the next two fiscal years due to the coronavirus, according to a research paper by the left-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.”
- That's also the figure sought by NGA chair Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and vice chair New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D). Without it, they wrote on an April 21 letter issued on behalf of the country's governors, “these continuing losses will force states and territories not only to make drastic cuts to the programs we depend on to provide economic security, educational opportunities, and public safety, but the national economic recovery will be dramatically hampered.”
- Not just Dems: “The letter followed a similar plea a month earlier from 20 Republican governors — including many Trump allies such as Govs. Brian Kemp of Georgia, Kay Ivey of Alabama and Henry McMaster of South Carolina — who asked Congress to boost federal funding for states dealing with an unprecedented crisis that threatened to inflict long-term damage on their fiscal health,” Toluse notes.
- “The aid federal policymakers have provided thus far falls far short of what states will need to avoid harmful cuts,” the CBPP study concludes.
Strings attached: McConnell amended his comments on Monday, now saying it appears “highly likely” that the next coronavirus stimulus package would include additional aid to local governments in exchange for Congress limiting liability lawsuits from workers and employees as states start to reopen.
- “I’m open to additional assistance. It’s not just going to be a check, though, you get my point?” McConnell said in an interview with Politico's Burgess Everett. “We’re not writing a check to send down to states to allow them to, in effect, finance mistakes they’ve made unrelated to the coronavirus.”
- The president teased his own demands yesterday, telling reporters that as part of a deal with House Democrats to aid states, Republicans “would want certain things …. including sanctuary city adjustments” and payroll tax cuts.
- “I think there's a big difference with a state that lost money because of covid and a state that's been run very badly for 25 years,” the president said during his meeting on Tuesday with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). “There's a big difference, in my opinion. And you know, we’d have to talk about things like payroll tax cuts. We’d have to talk about things like sanctuary cities, as an example. I think sanctuary cities is something that has to be brought up where people who are criminals are protected, they are protected from prosecution. ”
The President ties the issue of Sanctuary Cities to emergency funding for the states pic.twitter.com/MnK5hP1Kzw— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) April 28, 2020
King and Hassan dismissed the suggestion that federal assistance would — or should — be used by states to address unrelated budgetary issues. “States have just now, a decade after the Great Recession, began really have been rebuilding their finances in rainy day funds,” Hassan said. “But no matter how hard they’ve worked to do that, they do not have rainy day funds big enough to meet this big gap … It's really important for everyone in the administration and in Congress to put themselves in these governors' shoes and say: What would I do?”
States facing a cash crunch have already outlined unwelcome budget cuts as a result of the pandemic.
- Per CBS News's Aaron Navarro and Grace Segers: “In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo [D] predicted a 20% budget cut for the state's schools, hospitals and local governments. And in Missouri, Governor Mike Parson [R] paused about $227 million in state funding, including a freeze of $61 million that was slated for higher education. In Washington, Governor Jay Inslee [D] has trimmed his spending budget by $235 million.”
- The impact on public employees and teachers can be seen in this dispatch from the Missouri legislature: “In all, the plan advancing in the House is about $700 million less than what was in the pipeline earlier this year, before the global pandemic sent the economy into a free-fall,” the St. Louis Dispatch's Kurt Erickson reports. “Although billions of dollars in federal stimulus funds may soften some of the cuts, public universities and state workers are expected to bear the brunt of the revamped spending plan, which goes into effect July 1.”
- States and cities that have already started mass layoffs. “Among municipalities, the new budget cuts could be profound: Between 300,000 and 1 million public-sector workers could soon be out of a job or sent home without pay, according to a new estimate from the National League of Cities,” our colleague Tony Romm reports. “The steep reductions in staffing levels could affect education, sanitation, safety and health, local leaders warn, potentially leaving critical public services in utter disarray.”
It's not just governors that are worried about their bottom lines:
Several former GOP governors who are now serving in the Senate — Mitt Romney (Utah), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) — did not respond to requests for comment from Power Up on the tug-of-war over additional relief for states.
- Yet New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R), with whom Hassan said she is in regular contact, called McConnell's bankruptcy suggestion “ridiculous”: “Anyone who’s saying that in the Senate doesn’t know what’s going on in the states, doesn’t know the pressures that states are under and the sacrifices we’ve had to make,” Sununu told WMUR's Adam Sexton. “And to have a state just up and go bankrupt and forego all the programs, all the benefits that the state has to operationalize, manage and institute for our citizens, is frankly a ridiculous statement.”
- “The idea of a blue state bailout is not accurate — every state is suffering at different levels because of the different levels of the disease,” King told us. “This problem may have started in a blue state but now if you look down the list of every state and the growth of the cases — it's Nebraska, Arkansas, South Dakota, Mississippi. … So what may have been perceived as a blue state problem two weeks ago is going to be anything but.”
A GRIM BENCHMARK: There are at least 1,008,000 coronavirus cases in the U.S. And 58,009 people have died, per The Post's tracker.
- Trump's spin on the numbers: The president said the large number of cases is because the U.S. “is that our testing is sooo much better than any other country in the World.”
- Yet Trump did not seem to account for the size of the U.S. population: “The number of coronavirus tests performed per 1,000 people in the United States is below the average of the 36 member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to figures released Tuesday by the international body,” Anne Gearan and Felicia Sonmez report.
On The Hill
THE HOUSE WILL STAY HOME: “House leaders abruptly dropped plans to bring lawmakers back to Washington for legislative work next week, citing warnings from the congressional physician about the continued spread of the coronavirus in the District and its suburbs,” Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim report.
- What changed: Some Democratic lawmakers criticized the plan. “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she had ‘no choice’ but to heed warnings from Brian P. Monahan, the attending physician of Congress, that bringing the chamber back for routine work after more than six weeks of limited operation would place lawmakers and support staff at heightened risk.”
But the Senate is coming back: “McConnell has chosen to accept the risk, bringing senators back for work starting with a Monday evening vote on Trump’s nominee for inspector general of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Two days later, the Senate Judiciary Committee plans to hold a confirmation hearing for Justin Walker, a McConnell protege nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit,” our colleagues write.
- Schumer assailed the decision and suggested McConnell might not have called the attending physician: “It seems what he wants to do is have us vote for or have hearings on a judge who is sort of a crony of his, someone who used to work on his staff who was rated unqualified by the ABA,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer told PBS's Judy Woodruff. McConnell's spokesman declined to tell our colleagues if the majority leader consulted with health officials on his decision.
Outside the Beltway
FEARS RUN UP AGAINST PUSH TO REOPEN: “Hanging over plans to restart the nation’s economic engine are unprecedented health concerns, as individuals balance each shopping trip, airplane flight and restaurant meal against the risk of catching a sometimes-fatal illness,” David J. Lynch and Abha Bhattarai report.
Trump waded directly into the conversation by ordering meatpacking plants to remain open: “[The president] invoked the Defense Production Act to classify meat plants as essential infrastructure that must remain open. Under the order, the government will provide additional protective gear for employees as well as guidance, according to a person familiar with the action who spoke about the order before it was signed by the president,” Taylor Telford, Kimberly Kindy and Jacob Bogage report.
- Plants around the country have become hot spots in recent weeks: “Worker safety experts say such an order would prevent local health officials from ordering meat companies to use their the most effective weapon available to protect their employees from the coronavirus — closures,” our colleagues write. “They also fear that it would also undercut newly issued federal health guidelines designed to put space between plant workers."
BIDEN FACES CALLS TO ADDRESS READE ALLEGATIONS: “Joe Biden faced growing calls from Democrats on Tuesday to address claims made by Tara Reade, a former aide in his Senate office who has accused Biden of sexually assaulting her in the early 1990s,” Sean Sullivan, Matt Viser and Annie Linskey report.
The former vice president has not addressed the accusations: “He also has declined to release his Senate papers, which are being held at the University of Delaware and could shed light on personnel issues,” our colleagues write. “His campaign has forcefully denied Reade’s claims.”
Escalating accounts have squeezed Democrats between two goals: “Support all women accusing powerful men of misconduct and to defend Biden, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, from what they say are unfounded accusations,” our colleagues write.
- Some in the party are speaking out: “I don’t want to minimize what happened to her. I’ve spent too many years doing this work to do that,” Gilda Cobb-Hunter, president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators and a veteran South Carolina Democrat who plans to support Biden told our colleagues. “I think he needs to say something forceful so that we can try to put it behind us.”
- Bernie Sanders's national organizing director said Biden should leave the race:
Now is the time to deal with the ramifications of Tara Reade's accusations, not this fall. There is simply no moral justification for Biden to continue as the presumptive nominee. Out of respect for survivors and for the good of the country, he should withdraw from the race.— Claire Sandberg (@clairesandberg) April 28, 2020
What Biden allies are saying: “Most [are] refusing to comment when asked about the claims and signaling with their silence the fraught nature of the accusations. The Washington Post reached out to numerous Biden supporters, top endorsers and potential running mates. Many chose neither to defend him nor to call on him to further explain,” our colleagues write.
- Among those who declined to comment: A number of possible VP picks, “including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Kamala D. Harris (Calif.). Aides to Klobuchar and Harris pointed to prior comments in which they said they respect Reade’s right to tell her story but also defended Biden as a strong advocate for women’s rights.”
- An exception is former Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams: “I believe women deserve to be heard, and I believe that has happened here,” Abrams said in a statement. “The allegations have been heard and looked into, and for too many women, often, that is not the case.”
Another major exception is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.): She issued a strong defense of Biden. “Gillibrand was the first senator to call for Sen. Al Franken to resign two years ago after the Minnesota Democrat was accused of touching and kissing several women without their permission. He strongly denied the allegations,” our colleagues write.
- Gillibrand's statement: “[Biden] has vehemently denied these allegations, and I support Vice President Biden,” the senator said, apparently referring to his campaign’s denial.
AMASH ANNOUNCES PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: “Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan will seek the Libertarian Party’s nomination for president, ending months of speculation that the former Republican would run as an alternative to [Trump and Biden],” David Weigel reports.
- How he got here: “In 2019, Amash became the only Republican to call for Trump’s impeachment. Not long after, he left the party and continued to vote against spending bills, while opposing many White House priorities,” our colleague writes. “He faced a tough reelection in his Grand Rapids, Mich.-based district, with Republicans and Democrats both filing against him.”
ELSEWHERE ON THE TRAIL:
Ohio primary news: “Joe Biden easily won the Democratic presidential contest in Ohio on Tuesday, in a contest delayed and held largely by mail due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Felicia Sonmez and David Weigel report from Columbus. “On Monday, Ohio’s secretary of state said almost 2 million people had requested absentee ballots and just under 1.5 million had already voted.”
- And: The former veep also secured another major endorsement, this time courtesy of Hillary Clinton.
Kweisi Mfume returns to Congress: “Democrat Kweisi Mfume easily beat his Republican rival in the race to succeed former congressman Elijah E. Cummings, which was conducted largely by mail …,” Rachel Chason and Jenna Portnoy report from Baltimore. “The former congressman will retake the seat he held for nine years before he stepped down and was followed into office by his friend Cummings.”
Andrew Yang sues New York: “[The former Democratic presidential candidate] is suing the New York State Board of Elections in federal court after the state election commission effectively canceled the Democratic presidential primary there,” Politico's Zach Montellaro reports.
TO NO A VEIL: The Star Tribune's Briana Bierschbach and Jeremy Olson report on Vice President Pence's decision to not wear a mask while he toured the renowned Mayo Clinic on Tuesday. “… Even as he praised Mayo's efforts to combat covid-19, Pence ignored the clinic’s request that all visitors don face masks to prevent transmission, including Gov. Tim Walz and others on the tour.”
- The clinic tweeted and then deleted that Pence had been informed of the policy. The vice president later told reporters that since he is tested for the virus on a regular basis, and he knows he doesn't have it, such a precaution was unnecessary. He added, “I thought it'd be a good opportunity for me to be here, to be able to speak to these researchers these incredible healthcare personnel and look them in the eye and say thank you.”