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Lawmakers On Capitol Hill Debate Relief Plans For States

NOEL KING, HOST:

The latest coronavirus relief package is headed to President Trump. It passed the House yesterday. It is $484 billion of aid. A lot of that is for small businesses. And lawmakers are already talking about what will come next. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York is on the line with me. Good morning, Senator.

CHUCK SCHUMER: Good morning, Noel. I hope you're healthy.

KING: Thank you, sir. You too. Individual states need aid. They're losing all kinds of revenue. Lawmakers are considering how to help. And 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?

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 is 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's 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 four.

After all, Noel, who are we talking about? This is not abstract, you know, state government. Rather, it's policemen who patrol - 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 their 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'll be the momentum to defeat him.

As for the bigger question you asked, what about all 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 No. 1 goal is to solve the both health care crisis and the economic crisis. And it will cost some money. There's 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 it's tax cuts for the rich. Remember, they said it would grow the economy. It didn't. It mainly went for stock buybacks on the corporate side. 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 help people - 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.

KING: Let me ask you about an interesting point that Senator McConnell made. He said he's worried that coronavirus aid would be, quote, "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 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've seen there are problems here in how this money is being spent in other ways?

SCHUMER: Yes. Well, you know, we can pass good legislation, but it's 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're 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 the - 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 who are 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 30. That means state taxes are delayed, as well. So the - 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. You know, his right-wing Republican philosophy...

KING: Well, I think there's been some acknowledgement...

SCHUMER: His right wing philosophy says let the private sector do it. At this time, at this moment in time, only government can do it. You cannot have a knee-jerk anti-government.

KING: Let's say 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's called fiscal relief for states.

SCHUMER: Yeah.

KING: When was the last time you spoke with the president?

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 this $250 billion to the same program that you and others, myself have criticized. They're 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.

KING: Did you and I - I want to stay on President Trump because it's interesting here that he seems to agree with you. Did you discuss with him the issue of aid to states and...

SCHUMER: He believes in aid to localities and has said that he would do it in COVID 4. I mean, as I said...

KING: Do you...

SCHUMER: ...McConnell is increasingly isolated.

KING: Have you secured a commitment from President Trump? I'm just - let's talk about how real this is.

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've given him a testing. We forced him now to come up with a national testing regime. We need tests in this bill. We've 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 Feds so they can set up a supply chain so that we can actually manufacture enough tests and swabs and everything else that's needed.

We improve things greatly in this 3.5 bill. And now we have to - we can't force the White House - they are - 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's going to implement testing, which every expert says is the quickest path to get us moving again.

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.

SCHUMER: Yes, I think that 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'll get worse.

KING: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. Thank you, sir.

SCHUMER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BREAK OF REALITY'S "OTHER WORLDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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