MADISON – Wisconsin’s congressional delegation is mostly split along party lines over providing federal financial help to states, with Democrats in support and most Republicans opposed or taking a wait-and-see approach.
Democrats and Republicans from Wisconsin also disagree on whether to continue enhanced unemployment benefits after July. Democrats want to extend them to help those who have been thrown out of work, while Republicans say ending them will help get people back to work more quickly.
The partisan divisions offer the latest sign that the two parties want to respond differently to the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout.
Wisconsin’s House delegation split along party lines last month on a Democratic bill that would give states and local governments $1 trillion in aid and extend the enhanced unemployment benefits through January. The benefit, which provides an extra $600 a week in compensation while unemployed, is scheduled to expire at the end of July.
In response to questions from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Republicans said they did not want to extend the $600-a-week benefit.
But the Republicans were not united regarding providing more money to states. Rep. Mike Gallagher of Green Bay said he wanted to make more funds available, while others said they either opposed the idea or wanted to put off a decision until they see how funds that have already been given to states are spent.
Views mostly divided on party lines
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson did not respond to questions from the Journal Sentinel.
Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin supports more money for states and an extension of the additional $600 weekly unemployment benefits, said her spokesman, Jon Kraus.
Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore, who represents the Milwaukee area, said it was essential to provide more help to struggling workers and state and local governments.
“State and local governments are hurting even as they are on the frontline of the public health response to this deadly virus,” she said in a statement.
Outgoing Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who represents much of suburban Milwaukee, did not respond to questions. But state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Juneau Republican running to replace him, said he wants to get a better handle on what Wisconsin’s needs might be before agreeing to give states more money.
“The money from the CARES Act isn’t out the door yet. Why are we talking about sending more money to states and locals?” he said, referring to an earlier aid package signed into law.
Fitzgerald said he was disinclined to extend the $600 in extra weekly unemployment benefits, in part because some workers are making more in benefits than they do on the job. That will make it tougher to get people back to work, he said.
“Never say never on something like this in case we have another outbreak or in case something would change dramatically but right now certainly it’s not helping with the recovery we’re all hoping for,” he said.
Tom Palzewicz, the Democrat running for the seat, said he supported more money for states.
“State and local governments are bearing the brunt of managing the pandemic and need the funds in order to make sure their communities are safe and supported,” he said in a statement.
He said he backs extending the $600 in additional weekly benefits for another 13 weeks and then assessing the situation.
Republican Rep. Bryan Steil, who represents south-central and southeastern Wisconsin, noted much of the coronavirus money that has already been given to states has not yet been spent.
“We need to examine how existing federal dollars provided to state governments are being utilized,” he said in a statement. “Wisconsin taxpayers should never have to pay for the past irresponsible spending habits in states like Illinois.”
He criticized how the state has handled unemployment claims during the pandemic but said the added $600 in weekly benefits should not be extended beyond July.
Republican Rep. Glenn Grothman, who represents northern Milwaukee suburbs and eastern Wisconsin, said he was skeptical of giving states more money.
“I can never say never but we’ve spent enough money,” he said. “People who want to spend more should have it very tailored and agree to spend less in other places.”
He opposes continuing the extra unemployment benefits after July.
“We can’t extend that,” he said. “A, we’re broke and, B, it’s not hard to find employers who already can’t find people to work because they can’t pay them more than unemployment.”
Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan, who represents the Madison area, said help for states is essential.
“Right now it is state and local governments that are delivering most of the COVID cases for the federal government because they’re the closest to the people and they’re going through an enormous amount of expenses and lost revenue because of it,” he said.
He backs more money for unemployment benefits, saying many won’t have returned to work by the end of July.
“We need to make sure people are not getting behind on rent or mortgage or all the other expenses that will have a negative ripple effect through the economy,” he said.
Gallagher, the Republican representing Green Bay and much of the Fox Valley, said he would like to send more money to states and local governments, but stressed that the additional aid must go toward costs related to the pandemic.
“Phase Four legislation can’t become a federal bailout for states like Illinois that have grossly mismanaged their pension system and state budgets. Rewarding that behavior would serve to only hurt fiscally responsible states like Wisconsin,” he said in a statement.
He said he opposes extending the weekly benefits because it would make it harder to get the economy back in shape.
Tom Tiffany, the newly elected Republican representing northern Wisconsin, said he opposes providing more money to states and extending the $600 in weekly unemployment benefits.
“Tom supports people getting back to work as quickly as possible,” said his spokesman, Charles Nichols.
Democratic Rep. Ron Kind, who represents western Wisconsin, did not respond to questions from the Journal Sentinel. Like the other Democrats, he voted for the legislation that would give more money to state governments and extend the unemployment benefits.
Contact Patrick Marley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.
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