Governors facing the prospect of hundreds of thousands of their constituents losing out on badly needed relief during the coronavirus pandemic grew increasingly frustrated as Congress dragged its feet on a legislative package, and many became downright apoplectic after President TrumpDonald TrumpPowell says White House aides won’t let her help Trump Judge throws out GOP lawsuit to close Georgia ballot drop boxes after business hours Bipartisan, bicameral group urges Trump to sign COVID-19 relief package MORE this week blew up delicate negotiations by saying he was not happy with a bill in which he previously paid little interest.
In interviews Wednesday and Thursday, top advisers to both Democratic and Republican governors said that anger at the lack of a coordinated federal response to combat the pandemic had reached a boiling point during negotiations over a relief package.
“Honestly I’ve never been so disgusted with Congress,” said a chief of staff to one Democratic governor. “We’ve been pulling our hair out for months. The federal government has not made a single step of the process of dealing with this pandemic easier. Not one single step.”
The chief of staff, like others interviewed for this story, asked for anonymity to avoid angering both the Trump administration and Senate Republicans, who have said they will not consider new aid to state and local governments in future relief packages.
Congress approved a $900 billion relief package on Tuesday, a bill that includes $300 weekly supplemental jobless benefits and one-time $600 payments to millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet.
Later on Tuesday, Trump said he was dissatisfied with an agreement he called “a disgrace.” He called on Congress to amend the legislation to boost the one-time payments to $2,000 per individual and to rid the bill of funding that his own administration had requested in its annual budget.
Trump did not threaten to veto the measure outright, though if he does not sign it in short order, state officials said there will be a gap between unemployment checks that millions are relying on in the midst of rising unemployment rates.
“The longer the president waits to sign [the bill], the longer it will take the Department of Labor to turn around guidance, the longer it will take us to get that new relief out,” said a top aide to one Republican governor. “Think of all the businesses within a week or two of deciding to close that would hang on because of the extension of PPP. The effect of further delay there would be immediate.”
Most states face significant budget holes after losing hundreds of millions or even billions in tax revenue. At the same time, earlier stimulus bills require state and local governments to spend down grants from the federal government by the end of the year — even when it is clear that the coronavirus pandemic will continue to rage well into 2021.
“We all want some stability with our budgets and kind of the basics when it comes to small business assistance,” said another chief of staff to a Democratic governor, whose state borders several with Republican governors. The chief of staff said he had been in contact with colleagues in those neighboring states. “It’s a collective frustration, ideological differences aside. We’re all just frustrated.”
Frustration at Washington has grown in the last year over the lack of a coordinated plan to combat the virus, and at Congress’s slow moves to replenish relief funding. Both Republicans and Democrats have increasingly voiced anger at Capitol Hill — but now, even Republicans are beginning to chafe at Trump’s last-minute reversal.
“Congress just continues to destroy any respect it may have been clinging to post-election,” said a top adviser to another Republican governor. “POTUS will be gone in 27 days.”