DeSantis Opposes Debt Deal Despite Handing Out COVID Checks
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis used the fruits of federal deficit spending to help win reelection last year ― personally handing out bonus checks to police and firefighters ― but is now opposing the deal to make payments on the national debt that includes that spending.
“Prior to this deal, our country was careening towards bankruptcy, and after this deal, our country will still be careening towards bankruptcy,” DeSantis, who announced his 2024 presidential bid last week, told Fox News on Monday. “To say you can do $4 trillion of increases in the next year and a half, I mean, that’s a massive amount of spending.”
DeSantis, however, was not complaining about the federal government’s spending habit when he and Florida lawmakers accepted some $13 billion in total pandemic relief funding from 2020 through 2022. The final tranche of that total, President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, was the entire source for $1,000 bonus checks for each of the 85,000 first responders in Florida. DeSantis toured the state to hand those out as he ran for reelection last year.
“Because we know how hard you guys have been working, you know, and always it’s a tough job, but particularly since COVID,” he said during a visit to a Jacksonville firehouse last September.
He used that same federal money that came Florida’s way to send $1,000 bonus checks to all of the state’s public school teachers.
The two sets of bonuses, as well as the overall budget surplus Florida enjoyed thanks in large measure to the federal money, were frequently mentioned as accomplishments in his handling of COVID and its aftermath as he sought, and won, a second term.
DeSantis’ governor’s office did not respond to queries from HuffPost.
His Republican critics said DeSantis’ duplicity no longer surprises them.
“Whether it is touting freedom while using government to attack private property and private businesses, chanting ‘Trust Parents!’ concerning teaching children about sexuality until the parents take their children to a Sunday brunch with drag queens, or biting Biden’s hand for giving him the money he spent like a drunken sailor, hypocrisy is part and parcel of DeSantis’ essential inauthenticity,” said Mac Stipanovich, a political strategist who once served as chief of staff to former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez (R).
David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from Florida, also said DeSantis’ comments about the debt limit reflect where the party is headed. “DeSantis is a perfect example of the post-ideological GOP, rife with policy inconsistencies,” he said. “His predecessor, Rick Scott, at least meant what he said when he rejected D.C. spending as governor.”
Donald Trump, the coup-attempting former president and the current front-runner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, three weeks ago said Republicans may as well force a debt default unless they get what they want, because one was going to happen eventually anyway. He has been silent on the debt agreement, however, since it was reached over Memorial Day weekend.
Like in all states, federal money is a sizeable component of Florida’s budget, particularly for health and human services included within the Medicaid program. In 2019, DeSantis’ first year as governor, the state received $32.9 billion in federal funding, according to state figures, more than a third of its annual budget.
That figure was $33 billion in 2020, but jumped to $39.9 billion in 2021 and $39.2 billion in 2022, thanks to the various federal COVID-19 funding packages.
In 2021, DeSantis vetoed $1 billion the legislature had earmarked from the American Rescue Plan for an emergency preparedness fund within the governor’s office ― not because he objected to having access to the money, but because he feared that the federal government might disallow it under the ARP rules. “If we were to go forward with it, we were going to run into [the] risk of having the feds come after us for it,” DeSantis said as he explained his veto.
The COVID-related spending, the majority of which occurred under Trump, is a big reason for the dramatic recent increase in the now $31.5 trillion national debt.
Under the agreement reached by Biden and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the country’s debt limit would be suspended through 2024 while some spending would be capped for two years.
The House is scheduled to vote on the bill Wenesday.
If Congress fails to pass a debt limit increase, the United States would default on its outstanding bond obligations, resulting in higher interest rates and borrowing costs in the future, and likely triggering a global recession.