But the political argument has been muddled by the diverging experience of state revenues in the crisis, which does not hew neatly to party lines. States that depend heavily on tourism, like Florida, or on energy taxes, like Wyoming, face large shortfalls, along with liberal bastions like California and New York.
“There are many states that are doing reasonably well right now, and a few that are struggling substantially,” said Jared Walczak, who compiles data on state and local aid as vice president of state projects for the Tax Foundation in Washington. “That makes it very difficult to put a coalition together. That list of states isn’t red or blue, but there is a divide.”
Some Republicans in the Senate have supported more aid to states, including negotiators in the bipartisan group such as Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. But lawmakers have struggled to reach agreement on how much is necessary and how to divvy up the funds.
“Some states have rainy day funds and are telling us they don’t need more money,” Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, said at a news conference this week. “Others are saying they need much more than we can possibly imagine sending to them, so a lot of difference in data and difference in terms of how well they’ve managed themselves in the past.”
Many Republicans have consistently opposed state aid, saying it would reward Democratic states that mismanaged their finances. One of their main talking points has been that states could use federal assistance to shore up public employee pensions — though the draft bipartisan agreement would have prohibited such spending.
“What Democrats really want is for Congress to just send money to liberal politicians who have already shown they can’t be trusted with it,” Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida — a state that faces a $2.7 billion budget shortfall — wrote in an op-ed for National Review last week. “If these politicians have budget shortfalls, it’s because they did not prioritize their struggling constituents in the first place, and instead wasted money on other things.”
Influential conservative groups like Americans for Tax Reform and Heritage Action for America have called the issue a “red line for conservatives.”