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Rick Scott to states and cities: Turn down COVID relief funds

During the Great Recession, several Republicans said states should reject federal economic aid. Now, Rick Scott is making the same pitch.
Image: Rick Scott
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, the Republican candidate in the undecided race for Senate from Florida running against incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., arrives for a meeting with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and new GOP senators at the Capitol in Washington on Nov. 14, 2018.J. Scott Applewhite / AP

In early 2009, a new Democratic president, eager to respond to a crisis he inherited, proposed an ambitious rescue package. In early 2021, another Democratic president, eager to respond to crises he inherited, proposed an even more ambitious rescue package.

The parallels between the Republican reactions to both are extraordinary.

In 2009, a prominent GOP senator argued against the Democratic plan by focusing on the literal, physical size of imagined piles of money. In 2021, the same thing happened. In 2009, Republicans pretended to care about the deficit, after having spent several years adding trillions of dollars to the national debt. In 2021, the same thing happened.

In 2009, nearly every GOP lawmaker in Congress ignored the polls and economic analyses, and stood firm against the Democratic rescue plan. In 2021, the same thing happened. In 2009, Republican opponents sought credit for elements of the plan they opposed. In 2021, we're already starting to see the same thing happening.

But I'll confess that, despite the many similarities, this Palm Beach Post report surprised me a bit.

Florida U.S. Sen. Rick Scott has a message for states and cities poised to receive a collective $360 billion from the American Rescue Act stimulus package: Send it back.... In an open letter to governors and mayors, sent moments after the U.S. House on Wednesday approved the $1.9 trillion bill, Scott called it "massive, wasteful and non-targeted," urging states to follow his lead and send a message to Congress to "quit recklessly spending other people's money."

The Republican senator added that states and cities would be doing the right thing by "rejecting and returning any unneeded funds."

Given the circumstances, it's likely that Rick Scott's appeal will be ignored. Indeed, his own state's Republican governor, Florida's Ron DeSantis, not only seemed eager to put federal funds to good use, he also seemed annoyed that GOP Sens. Scott and Marco Rubio didn't secure even more money for the Sunshine State.

But in keeping with the larger pattern, we saw some related nonsense 12 years ago, too.

As I noted in my book (see chapter 2), the Great Recession was taking a severe toll on the nation as 2009 got underway, and the Recovery Act provided resources to help states dig out of their holes. Several Republican governors -- including Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, Alaska's Sarah Palin, and South Carolina's Mark Sanford -- nevertheless said they were prepared to forgo all federal assistance from the Democratic initiative.

Texas' Rick Perry, Mississippi's Haley Barbour, Idaho's Butch Otter, and Nevada's Jim Gibbons quickly joined the same club, talking up their eagerness to reject "Obama's stimulus."

Their posturing was, of course, ridiculous: as their state economies drowned, an indefensible number of Republicans didn't want a life preserver because it came from a Democratic White House.

Eventually, this didn't amount to much, and the states accepted federal funds. This year, they will almost certainly do the same thing, Rick Scott's recommendations notwithstanding. But the fact that the Florida Republican would even make such a pitch says a great deal about the senator's approach to governance.