GOP Governors' Hypocrisy On COVID Relief Money

[ Posted Wednesday, December 15th, 2021 – 15:48 UTC ]

While reviewing the past year's news in preparation for my year-end columns, I came across something interesting, but didn't mark it down for any special mention. It just seemed one more bit of flotsam in the tsunami of idiocy emanating from the Republican Party over the course of a year. But then today the New York Times provided an update on the situation, so I was left thinking: "that was then, this is now," and I decided to juxtapose the two. Call it a textbook example of Republican hypocrisy.

Back in March, after the American Rescue Plan passed Congress and was signed into law as a COVID-19 relief package, some Republicans were outraged. None of them in Congress had voted for the bill, so they couldn't realistically claim any credit for it (although some, like Representative Madison Cawthorn, did indeed try to do just that -- claim credit for a bill he had voted against, back home in his district). So a few of them tried painting it as a bad thing, and one in particular tried to stop the tide of federal money from washing into the states by issuing a rather unusual plea. Here is an excerpt from an open letter Senator Rick Scott of Florida sent to "governors and mayors across the United States," begging them to just flat-out reject at least some of the money:

I am writing you today with a simple and common sense request: each state and local government should commit to reject and return any federal funding in excess of your reimbursable COVID-19 related expenses. This commitment will serve the best interests of hard working American taxpayers and will send a clear message to Washington: politicians in Congress should quit recklessly spending other people's money.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a public health emergency. Just as it does for other major disasters, the federal government has an important role to play in helping state and municipal governments offset the costs of COVID-19 response. However, American taxpayer dollars should not be used as bonus cash to plug budget holes caused by decades of poor fiscal management. This is not a taxpayer-funded bailout; it is a reimbursement for specific, COVID-related expenses.

As mayors and governors, you understand the importance of living within your means and budgeting responsibly so that you are delivering the best possible service to your communities, ensuring maximum return on any government spending and eliminating debt wherever possible. By rejecting and returning any unneeded funds, as well as funds unrelated to COVID-19, you would be taking responsible action to avoid wasting scarce tax dollars. After all, every dollar in this package is borrowed.

Most Republican politicians did stop short of telling individual citizens to refuse or rip up the $1,400 stimulus checks that were mailed to them as part of this relief package, but a few in the conservative media actually did suggest this. To date, I am unaware of a single one of these checks being refused or destroyed by anyone (to state the obvious).

So let's check in (from that Times article) on how the red-state governors are doing, shall we?

At her annual budget address this month, Gov. Kristi Noem, Republican of South Dakota, blamed President Biden's economic policies for rising prices, derided the "giant handout" of federal stimulus funds and suggested that she had considered refusing the money over ideological objections.

But like many Republican officials, Ms. Noem has found it hard to say no to her state's share of the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief aid that Democrats passed along party lines in March.

Ms. Noem explained to fellow legislators how critical those federal funds were to South Dakota and outlined how she would use some of the nearly $1 billion slated for her state to invest in local water projects, make housing more affordable and build new day care centers. For those questioning her choice to take the money, Ms. Noem, who has opposed COVID restrictions including shutdowns and mask mandates, said any pandemic-relief funds she rejected would have just gone to other states.

"It would be spent somewhere other than South Dakota," Ms. Noem said. "The debt would still be incurred by the country, and our people would still suffer the consequences of that spending." No state has declined the relief money, and if any had it would go back to the Treasury Department, not to other states.

Republican leaders across the country have been engaged in a similarly awkward dance over the past few months as they accept -- and often champion -- money from the $350 billion bucket of state and local aid included in the stimulus bill, which passed Congress without a single Republican vote. In some states, like Ohio and Arizona, Republican governors are spending the funds while attempting to undercut the law that allowed the money to flow. Other governors are faulting Congress for not giving their state enough money.

And, like their counterparts in Congress, many Republicans have blasted Mr. Biden's stimulus bill for fueling inflation, even as they take the funds, and criticized Democrats for pushing for additional government spending plans.

"I urge President Biden and Democrats in D.C. to turn off the spigot of out-of-control spending and get inflation under control," said Gov. Greg Gianforte, Republican of Montana, whose state has used some of its $906 million in stimulus money to invest in nursing homes and return-to-work bonuses.

It's like they're competing against each other to denounce how very bad this money is -- this money that they cannot refuse and gleefully spend to improve their states. Some of them are even suing in an attempt to get around legislative language that bars them from spending any of the funds on tax cuts (which is always the Republican answer to just about any problem at all, of course).

But let's check in on Rick Scott's state. Of course Florida -- run by a Republican who desperately wants to be president -- certainly would have refused the dirty, dirty money, right? Well, no....

Gov. Ron DeSantis, Republican of Florida, complained last week that the federal formula for allocating money to states based on their jobless rate had essentially penalized Florida for not imposing lockdowns and allowing businesses to remain open during the pandemic.

"I think you'd have to acknowledge that we got the short end of the stick compared to these other states," Mr. DeSantis said.

Florida, which was allotted a total of $8.8 billion, has so far received about $3.4 billion, which Mr. DeSantis said would go toward infrastructure, transportation and work force retention. The governor justified keeping the money by arguing that the federal government fueled economic disruption with shutdowns and vaccine and mask mandates that he opposed.

Despite his complaints, the cash cushion could help Florida build as much as $17 billion in reserves by the end of next year, according to Mr. DeSantis, and allow the state to afford to pay for priorities that are unrelated to the pandemic. Mr. DeSantis proposed a gas tax holiday and an $8 million program to remove "unauthorized aliens" from of the state. The money for that program would come from the interest generated by the state and local recovery funds, a spokeswoman for Mr. DeSantis said.

So Senator Scott couldn't even convince his own governor, to the surprise of precisely no one. DeSantis is actually whining that he should have gotten more money, not less.

Also missing from all Republican commentary about the American Rescue Plan funds is any hint of the word "socialism" -- which is notable since that is their go-to word to describe just about anything Democrats are doing or want to do right now. There was no ranting about lefties taking over the country with their dastardly socialistic plans -- the governors just quietly deposited the checks from the federal government. In fact, in private, they've been eager to work with the White House on getting those funds in their state governments' bank accounts:

White House officials said that despite some disagreements about the relief money, governors and their staffs have privately been working well with the Biden administration.

"I've had direct conversations with virtually all of the Republican governors or their top officials, and to the one, they have been constructive, nonpolitical, nuts and bolts conversations about how they can best use their American Rescue Plan funds for things like broadband, schools, water and work force development in a way that meets the needs of their state," said Gene Sperling, who is Mr. Biden's pandemic relief czar.

To be fair, Democratic governors are also happily spending the relief money -- but there's a big difference. They are doing so without complaining about it and without any hypocrisy. After all, Democrats alone made this happen. Republicans didn't lift a finger to help.

As I said, this is really just a textbook example of Republican hypocrisy. They denounce Biden's spending, every chance they get, but when the rubber meets the road they gratefully accept their fair share of that spending for their state. They even have the temerity to complain that they didn't get enough of it.

Perhaps next time the country faces an equivalent emergency, if the Republican states want to see a different formula used or a different emphasis on what it should be spent on, they could inform their very own elected representatives to work with the Democrats to hammer out a bill more to their liking? That's the way politics is theoretically supposed to work, after all.

Again, to be fair, at least some of them seem to have learned their lesson with the American Rescue Plan. The next big legislative package that made it through Congress was the bipartisan infrastructure bill -- which was indeed negotiated between members of both parties. One assumes all the red-state governors are going to accept all that money as well -- but maybe since their own party was instrumental in the negotiations, they'll be a little more quiet about it and not complain so much? One would like to hope, at any rate.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


6 Comments on “GOP Governors' Hypocrisy On COVID Relief Money”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    After all, Democrats alone made this happen. Republicans didn't lift a finger to help.

    That's pretty par for the course, eh? And, one more reason (as if we needed another one) to keep harping and ranting, ad nauseum, about the Republican cult of economic failure.

  2. [2] 
    John M wrote:

    Republican cult of economic failure needs to become a ubiquitous mantra featured on every major news outlet in America.

  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Maybe that's what covfefe stands for

  4. [4] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    You dummies are peddling economic nonsense. There is no "hypocrisy" in advocating against having the Fed Res Bank fire up their inflation machine money printer, and then spending they money they got.

    NOT spending the money would not do a gawdam thing to reduce the resulting price inflation, it would simply reward the morons who hatched the plan disproportionately at the expense of the sensible folks.

  5. [5] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    i'm sure you're right that not spending the money wouldn't do anyone any good.

    but it's one thing to reluctantly use what you get while still shaking your head at the policy that provided it -

    and another thing entirely to be up in arms against the policy while it's in the process of passing, then take credit for the assistance that's being provided while conveniently ignoring the fact that you claimed to oppose it.


  6. [6] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    i mean, you're basically saying the same think Gov. Noem said, which CW cited in the article.

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