Senate Republicans split over additional coronavirus aid to states, municipalities

"They just want money. They want us to bail them out," said Florida Republican Rick Scott.
Image: Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, greets Marc Perrone, international president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union with an elbow bump, prior to the start of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, greets Marc Perrone, international president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, with an elbow bump before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing examining liability during the coronavirus outbreak in Washington on Tuesday, May 12, 2020.Carlos Barria / AP

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By Julie Tsirkin, Kasie Hunt, Leigh Ann Caldwell and Garrett Haake

WASHINGTON — Republican senators are split over the path forward for coronavirus relief — not only on adding more money for states and local governments, but also on giving states flexibility to use already appropriated funds.

"I'm for it," John Cornyn of Texas said when asked about flexibility. "I think we're all hearing from our state and local officials that because of the mitigation efforts, they don't have revenue to provide for basic services like law enforcement and fire protection. That seems like a very compelling argument for me."

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But deficit hawks like Rick Scott of Florida are vehemently opposed.

"They'll use it pay their pensions. ... No one's talking about fixing the problems," Scott said. "They just want money. They want us to bail them out."

Scott went into the Republican senators' lunch this week with a chart showing money already appropriated to states. Last week, Scott had a sign showing blue states, like New York and Illinois, that he said had "mismanaged" funds previously.

But one thing may be sure: No Republican supports spending even close to what Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., suggested in the House Democrats' proposal.

"I saw that the speaker wants a trillion bucks. I doubt that's going to happen," Cornyn said.

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Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., told reporters: "It's unserious in my view, because it represents basically how much all of the states collectively collect revenue in a year, or at least last year, so I think, like I said, providing the flexibility provides us the time to see whether more is needed or not."

And Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., who went to the White House on Wednesday to try to sell President Donald Trump on his bill to give states flexibility, said he sees it as a way to "obviate the need for the Pelosi bill."

"I see the point of view of my colleagues who say, well, in our opinion, some states are mismanaged and we shouldn't give them any money," he said. "We're not going to solve that problem over the next three to six months. I do see a scenario where we end up with no bill whatsoever, no more legislation. But yet you're going to have some states and cities with substantial revenue shortfalls."

But even though Cornyn supports giving states more flexibility, he may not see Kennedy's bill as the right fix.

"I think there should be limits on it. ... This isn't designed to bail out people for other bad decisions they've made, but it is designed to try to help us all together get through the coronavirus."