Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently announced his opposition to any kind of relief packages for states, advising instead that states pursue the route of declaring bankruptcy. Since current federal law, for good reason, prohibits states from declaring bankruptcy, McConnell likewise voiced his support for altering the law itself.
By many accounts, McConnell will face stiff opposition not just from congressional Democrats, but also from governors of both parties, a significant number of Republicans in Congress, as well as the White House itself.
Republican Representative Peter King of New York is one such voice of internal Republican dissent, calling McConnell’s position, according to The New York Times ”shameful and indefensible.”
In doing so, King invoked a rather relevant and telling historical reference, declaring, “To say that it is ‘free money’ to provide funds for cops, firefighters and healthcare workers makes McConnell the Marie Antoinette of the Senate,” King tweeted.
McConnell is, like Marie Antoinette, either blind to or careless of people’s suffering—or perhaps just downright malicious and brutally indifferent towards Americans’ real struggles and hunger issues.
Like Marie Antoinette, he seems to be dismissing Americans’ financial and physical plights by inviting them to eat cake, when many Americans are already waiting in long lines at food pantries with insufficient supplies to feed all those seeking groceries, and when collectively the country may be on the verge of facing coming food shortages because meat processing plants, now mass breeding grounds for the coronavirus, are shutting down to protect the public health of their communities.
In short, there may be no cake to eat.
What does McConnell’s opposition to funding states have to do with food processing plants shutting down?
Well, first we have to acknowledge what McConnell never does, that the state, the government or public sector, actually plays a rather significant role in supporting and monitoring the private sector so private companies actually operate in safe, fair, and minimally just ways for Americans.
So, when McConnell does not want to “bail out” states, he is also undermining the ability of states to support the functioning of private companies.
Kansas Governor Laura Kelly’s plea to the White House early last April highlights this point.
According to reporting from The New York Times, “About a week after the first report of a Covid-19 case at a meatpacking plant in southwest Kansas in early April . . . Kelly, issued a pointed warning to President Trump: Without test kits to separate the well from the sick, a fast-moving outbreak could idle facilities that produce roughly one-quarter of the nation’s meat supply.”
The surest and safest to begin re-starting our economy–which isn’t just about dollars and cents but more importantly about our ability to produce the goods and provide the services necessary for us to live—is to be able to track the virus, to know who has it and who doesn’t, who is at risk, what the hot spots are, and so forth.
Having this kind of information would enable us to make optimal decisions about worker and community safety and to have informed assurances that productive processes and workers are safe in themselves, for our communities, and for consumers.
So, not funding states makes it difficult for companies to operate effectively and threatens not just residents of particular cash-strapped states but all Americans. If meat processing plants close down in Kansas, that’s a significant hit to the food supply nationally.
Trump’s executive order to keep meat processing plants open, 80 percent of which have risked closing to protect public health, has not been accompanied by the state funding requisite to ensure these plants can function safely for workers, their communities, and consumers.
And let’s be clear. It’s not just the literal starvation of people that results from McConnell’s position. It is starvation on many levels, threatening the loss of key services upon which people depend, from education to childcare to public safety and policing to fire-fighting.
And, of course, we know, that McConnell’s state of Kentucky exists is a state of perpetual government bailout, receiving $2.41 cents for every tax dollar it contributes to the federal government, while blue states he attacks actually receive less than they contribute.
But the real horror of Marie Antoinette McConnell’s efforts to undermine funding to states lies in the fact that his opposition is simply part of a career-long agenda of attacking American workers and has nothing to do with Americans’ needs during this pandemic.
He is trying to take advantage of the pandemic not to help Americans through a devastating moment of tribulation, but to further a rather nefarious worker-hating agenda.
It is important we understand that McConnell’s opposition to providing financial assistance to states crushed by the demands and devastation of the coronavirus is not some momentary hesitation linked to exigencies of the current situation but rather consistent with his and the GOP’s longstanding attack on public workers (typically with strong unions), public pension systems, and the public sphere itself.
David Frum, writing in The Atlantic, has explained in great detail why Mitch McConnell is suggesting states declare bankruptcy, even though states are legally prohibited currently from doing so currently, as an alternative to being bailed out by the federal government in the same way businesses and individuals are. Bankruptcy proceedings take place in federal courts, and anyone the least bit aware of Republican strategy knows that their plan has been to stack the federal benches with deep Republican red justices, appointed for life. This way, Republicans can effectively seize control of the budgets of stalwart blue states, determining their spending priorities and also acquiring the power to terminate union contracts and pension obligations.
The effect, of course, most immediately should McConnell’s opposition to providing relief to states prevail in the Senate, will be to inflict severe and unnecessary harm on American families and children by making it more difficult.
Eating cake does not seem like a viable option or solution here.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.