Nothing angers Andrew Cuomo more than the notion that taxpayers in "red states" should resent or resist assistance for "blue states" struggling against the coronavirus. Hearing that message from Senate Republicans provoked the Democratic New York governor to remind the nation several times of the gross disparity between what his state remits to the Treasury and what their states reclaim in federal benefits.
Cuomo noted acidly that New York pays $116 billion more than it gets back annually, while lucky Kentucky, the home of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, gets $148 billion more than it pays. By that reckoning, New York has kicked in far more over the past few decades than any of the states whose Republican leaders criticize supposed liberal profligacy.
"Give us our money back, Sen. McConnell," roared the New Yorker.
If you add up the excess funds coughed up by the Empire State, it's a lot of money. The enormous disparity between what New York pays and receives is not a new problem. How long has this been going on? The late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who served from 1977 to 2001, issued an annual report nicknamed "The Fisc" that detailed his state's excess contribution in federal taxes. How much money? Undoubtedly trillions. And that doesn't include interest.
Now, as Cuomo (and Moynihan) would be quick to add, that isn't how we do things in the United States of America. New Yorkers may grumble, as Moynihan did, but they would never demand that Kentucky or Florida or any of the "conservative" freeloading states pay their own way, or that the government should deprive their unfortunate citizens of the federal benefits that make their lives bearable.
Certainly, the disadvantaged citizens of Alabama or Mississippi or Tennessee aren't to blame for the demagogic nonsense uttered by Republicans who misrepresent them in Congress, and they don't deserve to be punished either. Indeed, New Yorkers — and like-minded liberals in California and other wealthy states — are proud to support food stamps, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and all the other efforts to ameliorate the ill effects of Republican social and economic policies.
But the attitude of some Republicans toward their fellow Americans in the blue states has grown noticeably nastier in recent years. New Yorkers still haven't forgotten that appalling moment when GOP senators from states that had gotten billions in hurricane disaster aid turned around and tried to deny that assistance to the Northeast states hit by Hurricane Sandy.
And then came the even worse episode in 2017, when Republicans wrote a tax bill that gave away trillions to wealthy donors while ending the state and local tax deduction, or SALT, that benefits residents of high-tax blue states. Adding injury to all the usual insults, that provision only deepened the inequities of "The Fisc." By the way, the loss of the SALT deduction still makes Cuomo angry.
The phony indignation of Republican senators who balk at assisting the states, cities and towns financially devastated by the virus is as unearned as their perennial denigration of the poor receiving food stamps — when they know full well that their farmers receive billions in subsidies to stay in business. The issue isn't whether farmers need or deserve aid but whether we recognize that we are one society that must care for all its people, wherever they live and whatever their political allegiances.
To undermine our patriotic and affective bonds across state and regional lines, as those Republicans do, is a dangerous and destructive gambit. Their own ideology of selfishness may someday end up punishing them and their constituents — especially if the folks in the blue states decide they no longer want to be played for chumps.
What would happen to the beggarly "red states" if all the federal programs were redrawn with formulas that reward each state according to its contribution in taxes? What would happen if the blue states were to decide to secede, as nostalgists in the old Confederacy sometimes threaten to do? What would happen if Democrats were to stop subsidizing ungrateful Republicans?
The answer is simple: Their institutions and infrastructure would fall, and their people would starve.
Nobody should want any such rupture. But the self-righteous red-state politicians should stop yapping about bailouts and remember what the blue states have done for them these past many years. Bless their hearts.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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