Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) has what he calls a “simple and common sense” demand for the 50 states: reject the federal stimulus money signed into law by President Biden on Thursday.
But in sending a letter to the country’s governors and mayors, Scott created an enemy that he didn’t expect: Gov. Ron Desantis (R) of his own state, who on Monday lashed out at Congress for failing to give Florida enough.
“The Senate didn’t correct the fact that Florida is getting a lot less than what we would be entitled to on a per capita basis,” DeSantis said.
Scott, as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is charged with ensuring his party’s fortunes at the Senate level in the 2022 elections. But the American Rescue Plan, Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID package, has broad public support.
Instead, Scott appears to be trying to convince states and cities to undermine the plan itself by rejecting $350 billion marked for them. He demanded that the money only be used to reimburse specific pandemic-fighting measures, and not for any deeper investments in infrastructure or economic development.
Scott pivoted to an austerity-based argument that has been widely debunked but which Republicans have wielded in the past as a cudgel against Democratic priorities.
“By rejecting and returning any unneeded funds, as well as funds unrelated to COVID-19, you would be taking responsible action to avoid wasting scarce tax dollars,” the letter reads. “After all, every dollar in this package is borrowed.”
It’s an attempt to force austerity on the country amid a Democratic trifecta and an administration that has so far been unwilling to buy into arguments that worries about the national debt should prevent much-needed spending from taking place.
It also seems dramatically unlikely to succeed, most of all in Scott’s own state. Florida is set to receive $10 billion under the plan, while eyeing a $2 billion COVID-induced budget deficit – one of the largest in the country.
“You return the funds, it just gets redistributed to New York or California or to other states,” Florida state Senate Budget Committee Chair Kelli Stargel (R) told local media.
DeSantis himself bucked Scott on that point, describing it as a “game-changer.”
“It’s infrastructure we would have needed to have done anyways,” the Florida governor said.
Some GOP-controlled state houses were seeking to use the stimulus money to finance deep tax cuts. But last-minute changes to the legislation by Senate Democrats prevented that from happening.
Scott is set to travel to Florida this weekend for a meeting with one of his main constituents: former President Donald Trump.
Scott told the Miami Herald that he’s traveling to Mar-a-Lago to ensure that Trump and the Republican Party “all row their boats in the same direction.”