LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell referred to additional federal aid to cash-strapped states as a “slush fund” — comments that landed with a thud with his home-state governor.
In a Senate speech Wednesday, McConnell accused top congressional Democrats of blocking action on a new coronavirus relief package unless their demands are met. Those conditions, he said, include states getting “a trillion-dollar slush fund to cover budget problems from long before the pandemic.”
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear later referred to the remarks as “unfortunate,” saying the additional assistance is vital for states, regardless of their political leanings.
“If we don’t get these funds, Kentuckians will suffer,” the Democratic governor told reporters at a coronavirus briefing. “I don’t know if it will be like bankrupting the commonwealth, but it won’t be helpful. I hope that this is a negotiating tactic.”
State and local government officials across the U.S. are struggling with the challenge of keeping basic services running while covering rising costs related to the coronavirus pandemic as tax revenues plummet. In Kentucky, July revenue collections showed resilience amid the coronavirus, with General Fund receipts surpassing the amount collected in the same month last year.
Beshear brushed off the senator’s comments that federal funding is being sought to cover long-standing budget problems in states.
“To claim that they’re not going to give it because of years of fiscal mismanagement in different places, fine. Say that we’ve got to use it all in certain areas that make up the vast majority of our budget,” Beshear said, pointing to education, health care and law enforcement.
Despite their political differences, McConnell and Beshear have forged a working relationship since the governor took office late last year.
McConnell is up for reelection this year and is being challenged by Democrat Amy McGrath, a retired Marine combat pilot. The federal response to the coronavirus pandemic has become the overriding issue in McConnell’s pursuit of a seventh term. McGrath spokesman Terry Sebastian said Wednesday that denying more federal aid to state and local governments will prolong the nation’s economic pain.
In May, the Democratic-led House passed a $3 trillion relief bill that would deliver almost $1 trillion for state and local governments struggling to weather the financial storm caused by the pandemic. Republicans have offered states flexibility to use $150 billion previously allotted for the virus on other needs.
Talks have stalemated between the Trump administration’s negotiating team and top congressional Democrats over another massive round of COVID-19 relief.
On Wednesday, McConnell accused top Democratic congressional leaders of “treating this crisis like an ordinary political game.” The Kentucky Republican touted the need for more federal aid for health care providers, for a lending program seen as a lifeline for small businesses, for schools struggling to reopen safely and to provide another round of stimulus payments to individuals.
“Kentuckians need more help,” McConnell said. “Americans need more help.”
With an eye toward his own election, McConnell laced his Senate speech with testimonials from Kentuckians praising the lending program — known as the Paycheck Protection Program — and the stimulus payments.
McConnell has boasted about the billions in relief money delivered to Kentucky, while McGrath claims the Republican senator has put corporate interests ahead of out-of-work Kentuckians.