On NPR’s Morning Edition, Schumer Says McConnell Call To Bankrupt States Amid Coronavirus Pandemic Will Increase Bipartisan Momentum To Deliver Needed Aid For State And Local Governments

April 24, 2020

Brooklyn, N.Y. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer today appeared on NPR Morning Edition, explaining that Leader McConnell’s assertion that states should be able to declare bankruptcy because of the coronavirus pandemic will increase bipartisan momentum to deliver much needed aid from the federal government to state and local governments. Below is a transcript of the interview:

Noel King: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York is on the line with me. Good morning Senator.

Sen. Schumer: Good morning Noel. I hope you are healthy.

Noel King: Thank you sir, you too. Individual states need aid, they’re losing all kinds of revenue. Lawmakers are considering how to help. Your Republican colleague Mitch McConnell suggested that bankruptcy for states might be the best route. Now you seem not to agree, you’ve made that point. Does he have a point about limiting how many rescues and how much money we can throw at this thing?

Sen. Schumer: Well first of all, what McConnell said was so far out of the mainstream I think he’s going to have to walk it back. He has isolated Republican senators, Republican governors have denounced him, and you know he was the reason that state and local aid was blocked in the interim bill that the president is signing today, he wouldn’t let it go forward. But now that people have seen how twisted his logic, or illogic, is I think actually what he said has given even more momentum for state and local assistance in number 4. After all, Noel, who are we talking about? This is not abstract, you know, state government. Rather, it is police officers who patrol our streets and keep us safe, it’s ambulance workers, it’s bus drivers. These people should not be thrown out of work because the states are not collecting revenues and I hope McConnell comes to his senses, turns around and helps us get state and local, but if he doesn’t, I think there will be the momentum to defeat him. As for the bigger question you asked, what about all of these packages, this is a crisis unlike something we have never seen really in this country. 26 million people unemployed, so many businesses closed, the number one goal is to solve both the healthcare crisis and the economic crisis and it will cost some money. There is a bit of hypocrisy coming out of Leader McConnell, he passed a $2 trillion tax cut mainly for the very wealthy, which did more before COVID to increase the deficit than anything else, so I guess deficits are ok in McConnell’s eyes when its tax cuts for the rich. Remember, they said it would grow the economy, it didn’t. It mainly went for stock buybacks in the corporate side. And so it’s ok to do that to increase the deficit but we shouldn’t help people who are out of work? We shouldn’t find a testing regime which we put in the last bill which the president will sign which will help us get back to work quickly? We have no national focus-

Noel King: Let me ask you about an interesting point that Sen. McConnell made, he said he’s worried that coronavirus aid would be, “a blank check down to states and local governments to spend any way they choose.” Now, we saw this with the PPP right, it’s supposed to be for small businesses, you’ve got Shake Shack, you’ve got big steakhouses getting the money. How do you make sure if states and local governments get money it’s being spent on COVID-19 related things, when we have seen there are problems here in how this money is being spent in other ways?

Sen. Schumer: Yes, well, you know, we can pass good legislation, but it is up to the administration to administer it. Now, there was not enough guidance to the banks on the small business side to tell them to go to the unbanked, the poorer people, the smaller mom & pop shops, and they gave it to these big companies that didn’t need it. But we corrected it in COVID 3.5, we are constantly vigilant, so we set aside $125 billion that can’t go to these companies that have good banking relationships but rather that would go to minority communities, rural communities and, if you will, the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker, the small businesses. So we have to constantly stay on it. The state and local money that we have advocated will go to the unemployed people, the people who are working who are needed in their jobs. But there’s no revenues, the states are not getting any revenues because people aren’t paying their taxes, the federal government itself said delay taxes until June 30th. That means state taxes are delayed as well. So, McConnell, I think, is less interested in the deficit and less interested in making sure every dollar goes where it should, which is something we believe in, and just saying “don’t spend money.” That is not in keeping with the needs now.

Noel King: Well, I think there’s been some acknowledgement…

Sen. Schumer:  You know, his right-wing Republican philosophy, his right-wing philosophy says, “let the private sector do it.” At this time, at this moment in time, only government can do it. And you cannot have a knee-jerk anti-government…

Noel King: Let’s say that Senator McConnell is as isolated as you say in his belief that bankruptcy is the best option. President Trump has signaled that he favors what he calls, “fiscal relief” for states.

Sen. Schumer: Yes.

Noel King: When was the last time that you spoke with the president?

Sen. Schumer: Well I guess I spoke with him as we were negotiating the COVID-3 bill and I’ve spoken with Steve Mnuchin who seems to be the one person who can get the president to do some things that need to be done. Remember, in this last COVID bill all McConnell wanted to do is give $250 billion to the same program that you and others, myself, have criticized, of just giving money to the banks, to these chains. We forced him to change it, we wouldn’t let the bill go through, and we put money, as I said, $125 billion walled off just to go to the unbanked who needed the help.

Noel King: I want to stay on President Trump because it’s interesting here that he seems to agree with you. Did you discuss with him…?

Sen. Schumer: Yes.

Noel King: The issue of aid to states and…

Sen. Schumer: He believes in aid to localities and has said that he would do it in COVID-4. I mean, as I said, McConnell is increasingly isolated.

Noel King: Have you secured a commitment from President Trump? I’m just trying- let’s talk about how real this is.

Sen. Schumer: Ok, well, commitments from President Trump come and go but we can force it to happen in the COVID-4 bill and I think there is enough bipartisan support, despite what McConnell did, to get that done. The president, you know, sometimes doesn’t focus. Yesterday we seemed to have a quack medicine salesman on television, he’s talking about things like disinfectant in the lungs. We have given him the testing, we have forced him now to come up with a national testing regime, we need tests in this bill. We have given $25 billion to do it, $11 billion to the states so they can do some of the testing and the contact tracing, money to the Fed so they can set up a supply chain so that we can actually manufacture enough tests and swabs and everything else that is needed. We improved things greatly in this 3.5 bill, and now we have to, we can’t force the White House. They’re – under our Constitution, they execute the laws. We can do oversight, we can prod them, we can push them, we can improve the legislation, but we need real focus in the White House on what needs to be done, instead of talking about disinfectant, the president should be talking about how he is going to implement testing which every expert says is the quickest path to get us moving again.

Noel King: Do you have concerns about how much money is being spent and what it means for the national debt? And I’m sorry, we just have seconds left.

Sen. Schumer: Yes, I think that it is something that we will have to grapple with down the road. But right now if we don’t deal with this crisis because someone ideologically says, “Well I don’t believe the government should spend money,” it will get worse.

Noel King: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, thank you sir.

Sen. Schumer: Thank you.