May 7, 2020 - Issue: Vol. 166, No. 86 — Daily Edition116th Congress (2019 - 2020) - 2nd Session
UNANIMOUS CONSENT REQUEST--S. 3608; Congressional Record Vol. 166, No. 86
(Senate - May 07, 2020)
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[Pages S2314-S2316] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] UNANIMOUS CONSENT REQUEST--S. 3608 Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, $3 trillion. As best I can tell, that is how much money the Congress has appropriated--let me amend that. That is how much taxpayer money Congress has appropriated to fight the coronavirus and its aftermath--$3 trillion. That is 12 zeros. Three trillion dollars is 3,000 billion dollars. These numbers take my breath away. We spent this money even though we don't have it. We don't even have 5 percent of it. We borrowed every penny. Our national debt will now be approximating, maybe exceeding $25 trillion. The last coronavirus bill that we passed, as you know, was the CARES Act, but it was not the only bill. We have passed a number of pieces of legislation to try to fight this virus and the COVID-19 that it causes, and those bills were very hard for me to vote for, not because I don't care about the American people--I do, of course; we all do--but because of the fact that this is such a staggering amount of money. I have spent my career in government--more at the State government level than the Federal Government level--I have spent my career in government being cheap when it comes to taxpayer money, and it bothers me, as it should bother all of us, that we spent money we don't have. I have driven all over Washington, DC, and I can't find the money tree. These are taxpayer dollars. But I voted for the bills, including but not limited to the CARES Act, because it was clear we had to do something. We had to appropriate money to fight the virus. We had to appropriate money to help people and their businesses to recover economically from the impact of the virus. We don't know what works in the CARES Act and what doesn't work, and we won't know for a while. I suspect we will look back and say: Well, this measure was a pretty smart thing to do--and with hindsight, but this measure fell a little bit short. But already many of my colleagues, and I say this with respect, have other bills to spend even more money, primarily to help State and local government. It is like a Labor Day mattress sale around here, the number of bills flying around. Someone wants to spend another $250 billion. Somebody else wants to spend $500 billion and give it to State and local government. Speaker Pelosi wants to spend $1 trillion. I think all that is premature. I suggest that we pause once again, we see what works, we see what has worked, and see what hasn't worked. Also, it would seem to me that any fair-minded person would have to conclude that we should open up. Once we open up government and see the economic impact, we will have additional information. And make no mistake about it--we are going to have to open up the economy again. I don't see any reason why we can't both save lives and save jobs. But I want to make it clear that every single one of these 3 trillion dollars, as far as I am concerned, is a precious commodity because they come from taxpayers. The discussion that many of my colleagues have been having about spending additional money on top of the $3 trillion specifically for State and local government seems to forget that we have already appropriated an enormous amount of money to State and local government. In my State, for example--I will just take Louisiana--I think, as a result of the CARES Act, we are going to receive about $3\1/2\ billion, and I am very grateful for every single penny. This Congress appropriated $287 million for public schools in Louisiana, $190 million for universities, $623 million for [[Page S2315]] hospitals. We have received extra Medicaid payments. Additionally, Louisianans have received $1.803 billion for State and local government. You add it all up, and that is about $3\1/2\ billion that has already been appropriated just to Louisiana. Some States got more; some States got less. So the point I am trying to make is that we need to recognize the fact that we have already done a lot for State government, and we have already done a lot for our cities. And I happily voted for the bill. I had some reluctance for reasons I have explained--just the breathtaking amount of money. This doesn't mean that our State and local governments are not going to have to sacrifice. We have certainly asked the American people to sacrifice, and we have certainly asked the American business community to sacrifice, and I think State government and local government are going to have to share in that sacrifice. They are going to have to scrub their budgets, and that is just a fact. As far as I am concerned, the Federal Government needs to do the same thing. There is not a single Member of this body who believes every single penny we spend in the Federal budget is absolutely necessary. I have a bill that I think may well make it unnecessary to appropriate new money for our State and local governments. I have a bill that I think may well moot the entire issue. We made one mistake--we probably made others, but in my judgment, I know we made one in the CARES Act when we put restrictions on the amount of money we gave to State and local government. Now, I understand why we did it, and at the time, I supported it. We do not want to bail out States, for example, that have been mismanaged. If a State decides to give generous retirement benefits at an early retirement age to its State employees, as far as I am concerned, that is that State's business, but also, as far as I am concerned, the people of Louisiana shouldn't have to pay for that--what, in my opinion, is mismanagement--and I think a number of my colleagues in the Senate share that sentiment. But in hindsight--I will take Louisiana as an example. We received $1.8 billion. There is a requirement in the legislation that says that $1.8 billion can only be used to defray the expenses of coronavirus expended by the State of Louisiana and by our cities. That is what the statute says. It is the statute passed by Congress that controls. I am not sure what the Treasury Department issued, but they issued something--they didn't go through the APA--that says: Well, the States--Louisiana, for example, has great flexibility to spend that $1.8 billion that we received in Louisiana that went to State and local government. They can spend it on first responders and policemen and school teachers. I appreciate the Department of Treasury issuing whatever it was they issued. I think they called it a directive. There is just one problem: The statute doesn't say that, and the U.S. Treasury does not have the authority--nor should it--to change a bill passed by the Congress. So I am grateful to Secretary Mnuchin for trying to help here, but I don't believe what he is doing is legal, and it gives me great pause that State government and our cities might act on a directive from the Treasury that could change 2 weeks from now. I think the only way to address this issue is through a statute passed by Congress. Here is what my bill would do. My bill would not appropriate any new money. Let me say that again. My bill would not appropriate any new money. My bill would say that, with respect to the $150 billion that this Congress--unanimously, in the Senate--has already appropriated to help State governments and local governments, which is the $1.8 billion that I am referring to that Louisiana received, they can use that money for operating expenses. They can't use it--my bill would specifically prohibit it--to bail out mismanaged retirement systems. They can't use it to bail out any retirement systems, mismanaged or otherwise, but they can use that money, with this small change to the CARES Act, to fill the holes in their budget as a result of any revenue shortfalls. In my State, for example, we are very heavily reliant on the sales tax and on the personal income tax. I think this measure may well moot the issue of having to appropriate brand new money for States and local governments. The Governors I talked to tell me: Kennedy, look, we really appreciate the money you sent State and local governments. There is just one problem. Our hands are tied. Our problem today is not enough money to fight the virus. Our problem today is, How do we fill a hole as a result of the shortfalls in our sales tax? That is what my bill would do. For that reason, I ask unanimous consent that the Committee on Appropriations be discharged from further consideration of S. 3608-- that is my bill--and the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration. I further ask that the Kennedy substitute amendment at the desk be considered and agreed to; that the bill, as amended, be considered read for a third time and passed; and that the motions to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection? Mr. SCOTT of Florida. Mr. President. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Florida. Mr. SCOTT of Florida. Mr. President, reserving the right to object, I clearly appreciate my colleague's remarks. State, local, and Tribal governments across our great country are working tirelessly during this difficult time and have received Federal funding through the CARES Act, specifically directed to aid in their efforts to keep families safe. While I understand the spirit of my colleague's proposal, I am very concerned that removing the important limitations related to the appropriate uses of the Coronavirus Relief Fund in the CARES Act would siphon resources away from the coronavirus response efforts that desperately need these resources. Further, I am unfortunately hearing that some States and localities would simply like to use Federal dollars to backfill their decades of fiscal mismanagement. Hard-working American taxpayers should not be on the hook to bail out poorly run States or to fund areas of State budget expenses that have nothing to do with coronavirus. We see States like California, Illinois, and New York with big budgets, high taxes, and tons of debt. Contrast that with States like Florida, where we made the hard fiscal decisions to pay off debt and live within our means. Floridians should not be punished and forced to backfill the budgets of these States. I have a chart here that shows what has happened as a result--I just picked out three States--of their fiscal mismanagement. From 1985 to 2018, you can see here that Florida gained significant population while these poorly managed States lost population. You can see that in Florida we watched our budget and didn't keep borrowing more money. We lived within our means. You can look at our debt--$27 billion. When you look at California, it is $155 billion; New York, $148 billion, and Illinois, $67 billion. You see what people are doing. They are leaving these high-tax States. Look at the personal income taxes and look at their attitude toward business. These are the three worst States for business. The Tax Foundation shows how poorly they do with their tax policy. If you look at what has happened, people have left these States and moved their income to Florida and other lower tax States and more business-oriented States. I am completely opposed to bailing out these States. Now, the difficulty in my colleague's proposal is that it is very difficult how you decide what is going to be used for one expense in a State budget or another expense in a State budget. Let's not forget that this year's Federal budget deficit will be the largest in the history of our Nation--the largest in the history of our Nation--in excess of the cumulative deficits for the first 200 years of our country's existence. As my colleague said, we will end the year with an excess of $25 trillion worth of Federal debt. More than ever, I think my colleague will agree with me that we have to be focused and very careful with our taxpayer dollars. I am very supportive of continuing to get needed resources to the communities and first responders in need. [[Page S2316]] That is why, when the Senate passed the CARES Act, we wisely placed limitations on how this money could be spent. We need to maintain those guardrails to ensure that the country can continue on a path to recovery. For these reasons, Mr. President, I object. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Objection is heard. The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Scott of Florida). The Senator from Alaska. ____________________