I’m trying to find the right word. Is it “hate” or “jealousy”? I’m not sure what the right label is for us East Coast residents, but it seems that a substantial number of Republicans in the U.S. Senate and House have a built-in hostility toward us. This dislike goes back many years, and may even be tied to the Civil War.
Every time an eastern state asks for help from certain Congress members, it is met with a mean rebuff and a tirade. One great example is the Sept. 11 first responders, many of whom have died from their exposure to toxins at the World Trade Center site. Considering that 3,000 innocent people died in the terrorist attacks and thousands of first responders risked their lives trying to save them, Lower Manhattan should be considered hallowed ground.
Nevertheless, it took years before the Long Island congressional delegation and other state officials persuaded Congress to approve a long-term extension of disability payments for those heroes. The fight against that effort was led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. A number of Republicans from around the country who fought against the aid request backed him up.
Republicans are now looking for ways to stick it to New York and other coastal states that are drowning in debt created by the coronavirus pandemic. The relief bills passed by Congress showed great favoritism to some Midwestern states at our expense. Businesses in Nebraska and North Dakota were treated better than suffering New Yorkers. More pandemic hospital gear went to Florida than to our health facilities, and most of it wasn’t needed.
New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts, which have large populations, are essentially being told that they’re not entitled to more financial assistance because they are “blue” states. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has told McConnell that we’re dealing with life and death, not party registration. McConnell has gone out of his way to single out New York, claiming that our deficit was due to high pension costs and that we had no legitimate need.
Once he staked out his position, he was joined by senators from Iowa, Wisconsin and Arizona, who pledged that the Northeast would get nothing as long as they were in the Senate. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, whose state is home to millions of transplanted Easterners, chimed in with his own diatribe against the northern states.
What is fascinating about this mean-spirited attack against New York is that these same senators aren’t reluctant to visit Wall Street to beg for campaign cash. A few years ago, when Florida Sen. Marco Rubio spoke out against directing money to the dying first responders, U.S. Rep. Peter King, who represents many of us, told Wall Street money people to withhold contributions to Rubio or any other member who opposed the 9/11 aid.
New York state had more than 335,000 cases of Covid-19 as of Monday morning, the most in the country. Our hospitals and their personnel have been under enormous strain keeping up with this terrible virus. We are paying a high premium for masks, gowns and other desperately needed items, and the federal government has been accused of intercepting and diverting medical supplies from several states. Police and firefighters are working long shifts in order to keep up with the emergency demands of sick people. There are sad stories about the death of first responders and thousands of other local people every day.
Another obligation of the government, in the event of a future epidemic, should be to coordinate the food supply. It is a tragedy to see farmers destroying millions of pounds of crops and dumping fresh milk while hungry people are lining up at food banks all over the country. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue knows a lot about the farm business, but he has been clueless about how to move products to those in need. And, of course, Republicans in the Senate oppose expansion of the food stamp program for people in need.
As a former state legislator who crafted budgets for 12 years, I understand that state deficits are connected to the number of Medicaid patients and the high demand for human services. School districts have always been given a high priority in state spending plans, but this year they face dramatic cuts. That means higher school taxes, and guess who will pay the bill? New York state’s fiscal crisis is tied directly to the high cost of health care, education and other ways in which it meets people’s needs. The Republican claim that deficits are tied to pension costs is an outright lie.
But, if I have to choose between jealousy or hate to describe what they feel toward us coastal states, I think both words apply.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.