Cuomo returned to the topic later during Monday’s briefing. “Don’t say state and local. Say what the state and local governments fund: police, fire, teachers, hospital workers. Funds small business but also fund police, fire, school teachers, and hospital workers. How can you exclude them when you’re talking about priorities?” He once more rebutted McConnell’s suggestion that state and local funding from the federal government would amount to a bailout. After stressing that New York pays more into the federal treasury than any state while Kentucky is a net taker of federal funds, he said, “It’s not about money, but if you want to make it about money, you’re making a mistake because you’re going to lose on a tally sheet and it’s not even going to be close, but you want to tally up who owes what to whom? Go ahead. It’s not even close.”
By Monday, McConnell conceded: "I’m open to additional assistance. It’s not just going to be a check, though, you get my point?” Not really. He explained, “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.” Well, no one was talking about that. This is to replace money that the states have lost because their economies have shut down and revenue to the states has dropped through the floor as they fight the pandemic and must pay for testing and tracking. Trying an old trick employed by President Trump, McConnell insisted his words were taken out of context and that he had only made a “suggestion” that states declare bankruptcy. (There is no such option, of course, since federal law does not permit states to go bankrupt and McConnell showed no real interest in introducing legislation to allow state bankruptcy.)
Perhaps McConnell was getting too many complaints from his members. Maybe the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s digital ads attacking the majority leader got under his skin. In any event, McConnell now seems willing to negotiate a package.
The Republican leader, however, has other things in mind. He wants to pass liability protection so that if businesses reopen and customers or employees get sick, they won’t be able to sue businesses. Democrats are going to object to that as a “bailout” to businesses that do not protect the public and their employees. That may turn out to be yet another PR nightmare for McConnell, given that the public is already upset that big businesses are swooping up loans and getting billions in taxpayer money. The likely compromise is to enact litigation protection that kicks in if the business complies with Occupational Safety and Health Agency guidelines for a safe workplace and follows guidelines from both its state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In short, McConnell wound up with egg on his face and likely helped Democrats by allowing them to champion firefighters, police, healthcare and other critical personnel who would be the ultimate beneficiaries of federal money. States and localities are going to get their money. The question will be how much they get and whether McConnell is able to find yet another goody to bring back to his corporate donors.