U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez said he expects to announce additional Republican sponsors to a bill that would provide $500 billion in direct aid to state and local governments that have seen their budgets upended by the pandemic before the end of the week.
“I’ll say that we have, in addition to Sen. [Bill] Cassidy, two to three or more senators that have just about committed,” Menendez said Monday. “They will be representative of a significant cross-section of the country, and one may not be so surprising, but the other one will be.”
Menendez and Cassidy (R-La.) in April announced a breakthrough on the government aid bill, which provides cash long sought by lawmakers in what have most often been Democratic states.
The virus has sent New Jersey into something of a fiscal tumble, and while details about the extent of the state’s COVID-19-related financial troubles are slim, New Jersey is expected to see budget shortfalls in the billions.
But, the movement around the Menendez bill could solve those problems, especially if Republican senators who have spoken favorably about direct state aid over the past week join the push.
“Independently, you saw Sen. [Susan] Collins. Sen. Mitt Romney, Sen. [John] Kennedy from Louisiana, all last week on the Senate floor and in various comments say that the states need help, and so I take that to heart,” Menendez said. “That is a totally different tune than the majority leader has expressed, and when that many members of his own caucus begin to speak up, it makes a big difference.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell initially said he opposed bailing out governments impacted by widespread shutdowns leveled to blunt the spread of the virus, instead suggesting that state governments be allowed to declare bankruptcy, but his position has since shifted.
In late April, McConnell said direct aid to beleaguered governments was likely, but he said such a measure would be couple with a separate bill providing legal cover to health care workers, business owners and employees as states move to reopen their economies.
But, a critical mass of support could see the government aid bill passed without any riders.
“I think what happens, my experience in the Senate and in Congress is, once you begin to create a movement where others feel comfortable in joining, the numbers grow,” Menendez said.