A number of Republican governors who criticized Democrats’ COVID-19 relief plan are now happily distributing the money around their states, touting the benefits and taking credit.
The funds come from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, or ARP, which every single Republican member of Congress opposed. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently admitted that Democrats get all the credit for the $4 billion flowing into his state.
But that hasn’t stopped Republicans from trying to bask in the limelight of the legislation’s popularity. Several members of Congress have touted the funding for their state, even though they voted against the bill. And Republican governors from New Hampshire to Florida to Montana are now doing the same.
In February, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said he would have voted against the rescue package if he had been in the Senate. (Republicans are also recruiting Sununu to run against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, who voted for the rescue package.)
“Yes. I’d be a ‘no’ vote, because you have to make it better,” he said during a press conference. “You can’t just accept a bill and say, ‘Well, something’s better than nothing.’”
But last month, Sununu called it a “win” when his administration announced that it was using some of the money from the ARP to fund child care services in New Hampshire.
“Throughout this pandemic, the state has invested unprecedented levels of financial support into our child care system while implementing much needed licensing flexibilities so they could remain viable and supported through the pandemic,” he said in a statement. “These further investments are a key priority for us as we move out of the pandemic and look towards the future ― a win for children, families, and child care workers.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan similarly said in March that “I don’t think I would have” voted for the ARP. He said that while he believed state and local governments did need some aid, he thought it set a “bad precedent” to pass legislation without Republican support.
Just a month later, Hogan’s office announced Maryland residents would be able to save money on health insurance thanks to the rescue plan.
“This relief will help lower the costs many Maryland families would otherwise pay for coverage,” he said in a statement. “We are proud to offer such high quality health insurance options, now with additional savings, to keep Marylanders safe and healthy, especially as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Both Sununu’s and Hogan’s offices said there was no inconsistency.
“The Governor touts aspects of ARP that are beneficial to New Hampshire and criticizes aspects of the bill that hurt the state,” Sununu spokesman Benjamin Vihstadt told HuffPost. “The Governor supported many aspects of the bill, including targeted funds for vaccine distribution and flexible dollars to states, and opposed other aspects, including the funding formula that unfairly hurt states with low unemployment rates like New Hampshire.”
“If Congress hadn’t done what it does and filled a COVID relief package with all kinds of unrelated partisan spending, it would have been much easier to support the final bill,” added Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci. “For his part, Governor Hogan spent a year leading the charge for more relief for the states, and reached a bipartisan agreement with General Assembly leaders to commit American Rescue Plan relief to a range of urgent priorities in a fiscally responsible manner.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis approved a $101.5 billion budget last month, praising Republicans in the state for their fiscal responsibility.
“Part of the reason we’re here is because we’ve had good stewards in the legislature who spend conservatively; and responsibly, but also the fact that Florida has schools open, businesses open and people having the right to work,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw said that Florida has so far received about half of the ARP funds, “which are distributed based on state need as determined by the unemployment rate.”
“As for the benefits that ARP funding has gone toward in Florida, that is only possible because of the fiscal health of our state,” she told HuffPost. “If Florida had the same budget deficits as many mismanaged lockdown states are running, we would not have the same flexibility as we have today.”
Other governors who criticized the ARP have also been using the money to help their states. Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte called the ARP a “fiscally irresponsible progressive wish list,” but has since said the funds would help local areas invest in infrastructure, “increase access to quality child care services for Montana families, protect Montana seniors, and provide home energy and home water assistance to low-income Montanans.”
“Governor Gianforte’s position is very straightforward,” Gianforte spokeswoman Brooke Stroyke said. “He believes the federal government spending trillions upon trillions of taxpayer dollars is fiscally irresponsible, and ultimately, a burden our kids and grandkids will bear. That’s why the governor is looking to invest these dollars in responsible, long-term investments that will benefit our kids and grandkids through expanding access to reliable broadband, improving water and sewer, and stabilizing our child care system.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he didn’t like the ARP because it wasn’t bipartisan, but he used the funds to shore up the state unemployment compensation fund, improve water quality, invest in pediatric health, and help local governments.
Governors, of course, didn’t get a vote on the ARP. But many of them were vocally criticizing the legislation, and Democrats plan on making this hypocrisy a major part of their message for the 2022 midterm elections. While the political environment is still unsettled, Democrats will hope to challenge several of the GOP governors who took credit for the funds, including DeSantis.
“The American Rescue Plan is so popular even the most extreme Republican governors want to take credit,” said Sam Newton, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association. “Too bad for them, we won’t let voters forget how they opposed this vital relief that is getting people back to work and growing the economy.”