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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives for a pro forma session at the U.S. Capitol on April 21, 2020.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives for a pro forma session at the U.S. Capitol on April 21, 2020. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

In 'Callous, Shortsighted' Comments, McConnell Suggests Forcing States Into Bankruptcy Better Option Than More Federal Aid

"We've seen this before—it's crisis opportunity focused on a power grab, not help for the people."

Eoin Higgins

Progressives warned of continuing Republican efforts to attack the public sector after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in an interview Wednesday said he was disinclined to send states federal aid as they weather the economic fallout of the coronavirus fallout, suggesting instead allowing state governments to file for bankruptcy.

"We've seen this before—it's crisis opportunity focused on a power grab, not help for the people," tweeted Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.

State governments cannot file for bankruptcy under current law, but McConnell—faced with the prospect of providing federal relief to state workers—said it was possible the federal code could be rewritten rather than giving what he called "Blue State Bailouts."

"My guess is their first choice would be for the federal government to borrow money from future generations to send it down to them now so they don't have to do that," McConnell said. "That's not something I'm going to be in favor of."

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy was among a group of governors who hit back against the majority leader's comments.

"Encouraging, explicitly almost hoping for bankruptcies of American states in the midst of the biggest health-care crisis this country has ever faced, is completely and utterly irresponsible," said Murphy.

The disconnect between McConnell's hostility to helping the states and his work to provide the superrich and large corporations with relief was noted by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten.

"McConnell finds $ for tax cuts for the rich, and 2 trillion for business and others," Weingarten tweeted, "but when it comes to essential services and the people who do that, he wants them to have nothing."

McConnell's comments came in a conversation with right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt on the Senate's role in delivering relief to the American economy, which is expected to contract due to the coronavirus crisis, and the millions of newly unemployed people at risk of losing everything. But the majority leader said that the process would now have to be balanced with newly rediscovered concerns over the national debt. 

"This stance from McConnell is callous, shortsighted, and potentially self-destructive," Alternet's Cody Fenwick wrote Tuesday.

The Kentucky Republican singled out states as undeserving of federal aid, attacking pension funds and what he described as a love of "free money" from governors.

"We're going to push the pause button here, because I think this whole business of additional assistance for state and local governments need to be thoroughly evaluated," said McConnell.

"There's not going to be any desire on the Republican side to bail out state pensions by borrowing money from future generations," he added.

Forcing states to declare bankruptcy would create more problems for an economy approaching 25% unemployment. Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman wondered what McConnell's ultimate goal is in threatening to pursue policies which appear destined to push the country into a depression.

"Maybe McConnell secretly has some end game in mind, one that will suddenly reveal that he was serving the best interests of all Americans the whole time," Waldman wrote. "But right now, it sure looks like he just wants the country to burn."


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