U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) has been in the thick of federal discussions about another program to support state and local governments.
He said the federal government is having “active talks with respect to there being a next coronavirus response bill … I have been advocating directly to the president and his chief of staff [Mark Meadows] and leaders in Congress about Suffolk County and our local towns and villages.”
The local congressman, whose district covers the North Fork and South Fork all the way west to most of Smithtown, said President Donald Trump (R) called his house last Sunday night and that he used the opportunity to talk about getting funding for local government. Zeldin brought up the MTA with the president.
“I’m trying to get top line numbers for our county, towns, villages, the MTA and Port Authority,” he said.
Zeldin suggested three factors affected a national funding bill. The first is that the Nov. 3 election is rapidly approaching.
“You have to have a willingness to allow your political opposition to also have a win when you have a government that’s divided between parties,” he said. “The only way for a next coronavirus response bill to become law is similarly to the way the past coronavirus response bill became law,” by Republicans and Democrats working together.
Passing another bill would give everyone, including U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Trump a win, the congressman said.
“That’s a problem for some, because there are people who really don’t want the president to get reelected,” Zeldin said. “If anyone wants to suggest that that’s not a factor, a political calculation and electioneering, they are incredibly naive to that absolute factor to these talks.”
Additionally, the Republicans and Democrats have been far apart in the amount of funding. The Democrats initially had passed a bill in the House for approximately $900 billion for state and local governments out of a $3.4 trillion total aid bill, but the congressman claimed Democrats are sticking to their highball number. According to Axios, Pelosi is now aiming for a new total aid package hovering around $2.2 trillion with local assistance reduced to $436 billion.
Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have offered a $150 billion package for state and local governments.
“You can’t stick to a state and local government funding number as high as $900 billion,” Zeldin said. “That’s far more than state and local governments are asking for. If you insist on $900 billion or bust, there’s not going to be any additional state and local funding.”
The additional dynamic that comes into play is that some Democrats who were elected for the first time in Republican districts have been putting pressure on Pelosi in the last few weeks, Zeldin said.
“They want there to actually be negotiations and compromise to get it over the finish line,” he said.
With talks restarted between congressional Democratic leadership and the Trump administration, Zeldin said he was “hopeful” that the discussions would result in a new bill.
He said the amount of money the states and local governments are asking for has also declined since the original request. Indeed, New York State has cut its request to $30 billion from $60 billion.
Any bill that passed wouldn’t likely indicate how county and local governments should spend the money, the congressman said.
“I’m not looking for Congress to break up every dollar being appropriated for Suffolk County,” Zeldin said. “The best thing to do would be to provide flexibility, so that county level elected officials can determine the best use of additional funding.”