Buffalo, New York State and virtually all of its other municipalities have this in common: They are depending on Washington to ensure that police and firefighters aren’t laid off, that critical services continue to be delivered and that the public infrastructure remains intact in a time of severe disruption.
Much of Washington has been indifferent, especially among Republicans whose hostility would suggest they had never heard the words “Herbert Hoover.” They should be thankful that Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, and a bipartisan group of House members and senators know better.
Hoover was the Republican president whom Americans came to blame for the Great Depression. It wasn’t his fault, but so fatally devoted was he to the concept of small government that he couldn’t bring himself to deliver the help that Americans desperately needed, as destitution swept the country. Because he was content to accept the suffering of millions, voters in 1932 replaced him with then-New York Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was already testing policies he would bring to the New Deal.
The lesson here is that in the midst of crisis, it doesn’t pay to cling to a dogma that can’t meet the need. Americans need help.
And to the credit of Congress and the president, they have provided it, through four measures that have helped to mitigate the economic blow of the coronavirus pandemic. It was the right thing do, despite the inevitable flaws in the bills. But that was then. Now, the president and many Republicans in Congress are balking at helping states and municipalities weather the economic storm.
Instead of looking to serve and unite the country, many of them are looking to use it to further divide the nation, arguing that blue states with higher taxes and greater services do not deserve Washington’s help. They ignore that fact that blue New York sends more money to Washington than it ever gets back while, for example, red Kentucky takes more from the federal government than it contributes. The fact is that New York subsidizes Kentucky and the other taker states.
That’s OK. New Yorkers have always been ready to help. But now, New York – and virtually all the states – need assistance to sustain their operations. In Buffalo, the budget proposed by Mayor Byron W. Brown relies on $65 million in federal funding to avoid layoffs and service cuts that could be catastrophic.
This is a crisis; it demands action now. And while everyone should be worried about the exploding federal deficit, they should be more worried about the real threat of a new depression, particularly as some states invite a new, worse round of infections through their reckless reopening practices. As Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell observed last week, the risk of a prolonged economic downtown means that additional stimulus measures are “costly but worth it.”
That’s why it encouraging that Reed has joined a bipartisan group of 10 House members and six senators pushing a plan to provide $500 billion to states and municipalities. Their treasuries are being drained by the costs associated with the coronavirus pandemic and, generally speaking, their spending has been appropriate. From the smallest village to Capitol Hill, governments have a duty to respond to a historic threat to the nation’s health and its economy.
The bill they have introduced will provide only half as much as the Democratic House of Representatives approved last week in a $3 trillion rescue measure. Republicans have criticized the bill and vowed not to approve it, but in fact it was merely the opening bid in a crucial negotiation. What Reed and the bipartisan group has done to respond with a counter offer. The bargaining should continue.
Without the support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the measure might not go anywhere. McConnell, a Republican from the taker state Kentucky, has led the opposition to providing help states such as New York, but even he has softened his position.
Both parties need to negotiate in good faith and both – Republicans, especially – should review the 1932 election. Not only was Hoover blown out of the White House, but Republicans forfeited control of the Senate and suffered the loss of 101 House seats.
No one – not Republicans, not Democrats and certainly not the country – has an interest in inviting a worse calamity by relitigating the differences between Hoover and Roosevelt. Washington should be smart about this, but it must continue to respond, quickly and effectively.
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