ALBANY - Gov. Andrew Cuomo tore into Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday after the Kentucky senator suggested states might have to go into bankruptcy rather than expect a federal bailout due to coronavirus.
Cuomo was among the New York politicians who ripped McConnell as the state faces a loss of $10 billion to $15 billion in revenue because of the virus and has suffered more than 15,500 deaths, the most in the U.S.
"This is one of the really dumb ideas of all time," the Democratic governor said at his Thursday briefing at the state Capitol.
Cuomo called the powerful Republican, "my self-proclaimed grim reaper, Sen. McConnell."
Current law permits local, but not state governments, to file for bankruptcy.
Rep. Peter King, R-Suffolk County, also blasted McConnell for his comments Wednesday, calling him "Marie Antoinette," referencing the last queen of France's infamous (and apocryphal) "let them eat cake" response to the plight of starving peasants.
McConnell spoke Wednesday to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who asked if he would support a change to allow states to file for bankruptcy.
Hewitt singled out states with Democratic governors where he said they "have just given money away for years to people who aren’t working."
"Yeah, I would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route. It saves some cities. And there’s no good reason for it not to be available," McConnell replied.
And McConnell said he opposes federal aid to state and local governments in any additional stimulus packages.
"We all represent states. We all have governors regardless of party who would love to have free money," McConnell said.
"There’s not going to be any desire on the Republican side to bail out state pensions by borrowing money from future generations."
In a press release on the Hewitt interview, McConnell's office summarized the senator's remarks under the headline, "Stopping Blue State Bailouts."
Later Wednesday, McConnell told Fox News he is not opposed to helping states "with anything related to coronavirus," but he wanted Congress to act cautiously before approving more money.
He said they had to consider "the future potential damage of the country by adding $2.7 trillion to the national debt."
The suggestion that McConnell would in particular oppose money to Democratic states, such as New York, Michigan, Illinois and California, set off Cuomo.
"How ugly a thought?" Cuomo said.
"Just think about what you are saying: 15,000 people died in New York, but they were predominately Democrats so why should we help them. If there was ever a time for humanity, for decency, now is the time."
Cuomo said the nation's economy would suffer if states are not bailed out.
The governor has warned he would need to cut aid to schools, hospitals and local governments without federal assistance — and that would impact police, fire and first responders who are dealing with the pandemic.
Cuomo also noted how New York sent $116 billion more to Washington in tax revenue than it gets back.
Kentucky, meanwhile, gets $148 billion more than it puts in.
"His state takes out more than it puts in," Cuomo said. "Senator McConnell, who’s getting bailed out here? It’s your state that is living on the money that we generate. Your state is getting bailed out. Not my state."
New York — including its schools and hospitals — has received billions of dollars from the first rounds of stimulus money, but Cuomo is seeking unrestricted funding for state governments hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"To suggest, well, I’m concerned about the economy. States should declare bankruptcy," Cuomo said.
"That’s how you’re going to bring this national economy back? By states declaring bankruptcy? You want to have that market fall through the cellar: Let New York state declare bankruptcy."
Some Republicans have supported aid to states. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman said one of his top priorities is to address "the need for robust and flexible funding for state and local governments."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also criticized McConnell's stance, saying he would continue to seek federal assistance for his home state.
“When you talk about funding for state and local governments, it’s not in the abstract – it’s what prevents the layoffs across the country of police officers, bus drivers, firefighters, teachers, sanitation workers and in many cases hospital and other health care workers as well,” Schumer, a Democrat, said.