Why Republican resistance to state aid doesn't make sense

The sooner Republican leaders realize that it's in their interests to throw a lifeline to states and cities, the better it will be for everyone.
Image: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016.KEVIN LAMARQUE / Reuters

For the most part, there's been bipartisan agreement in the nation's capital about throwing trillions of dollars at the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But there's one area where the parties have diverged: federal aid to states and cities.

Democrats have practically begged Republicans to help throw a lifeline to governors and mayors facing fiscal crises, while Republicans have told Democrats the GOP has no interest in a "blue-state bailout."

The political dynamic is bizarre in large part because Donald Trump and his allies have an overwhelming incentive to help states and municipalities, whether Republicans realize it or not.

The sooner GOP officials realize this, the sooner they'll take note of reports like this brutal article in yesterday's Washington Post on local governments that have "already started laying off or furloughing thousands of their workers."

In Michigan, some unstaffed highway rest stops are shuttered. In Santa Barbara, Calif., local librarians are out of a job. Dayton, Ohio, has ordered furloughs at nearly every agency, and in Arlington, Tex., police officers and firefighters may soon see painful cuts. Facing an urgent financial crisis, these and other cities and states nationwide are eyeing dramatic reductions to their workforces, threatening critical public-sector employees and first responders at a time when many Americans may need their local governments' help the most.

The Post added that the economic havoc wrought by the novel coronavirus is "saddling Democratic and Republican mayors and governors alike with souring finances and major revenue gaps."

As Rachel discussed with the New York Times' Paul Krugman last night, the societal impact is hard to overstate. We are, after all, talking about public-sector workers who effectively serve as the backbone of society: sanitation workers, school teachers, librarians, police officers, bus drivers, firefighters, et al.

We all want and need these folks to keep their jobs. And yet, Americans like these are being laid off, right now, not because mayors and governors want to slash their workforces, but because the effects of the pandemic have dried up resources needed to pay these employees' salaries.

The federal government has the power to keep these Americans on the job. In fact, Congress could've already taken steps to prevent the latest round of layoffs.

But Republican leaders, at least so far, have preferred to play political games. For example, they refused to even consider adding state aid to the economic package that passed last week. Pressed this week on the same issue, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he expected Democrats to reward the GOP with political priorities in exchange for doing the obvious thing. The president soon after adopted a similar posture.

This is backwards -- or as Krugman put it on the show, it's "basically insane." Trump and his allies should be desperate to shovel money at state and local governments, if for no other reason because it's an election year and the current Republican position is making the economy worse -- in blue states and red states -- through brazen indifference.

Congress could pass a bill along these lines quickly and easily. The sooner the White House and the Senate GOP leadership realize that it's in their interests to do so, the better it will be for everyone.