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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: A superficial justification

by John Brummett | March 10, 2021 at 3:35 a.m.

The greatest source of destructive political resentment in America is the chasm between Democratic places where a lot of people live close together and more open Republican spaces where fewer people live.

It's reared its head most recently with Republicans justifying their votes against the Democrats' covid-relief bill by calling one of its provisions a "blue-state bailout."

That's a catchy superficiality, typical of contemporary Republican messaging. It's handy for steady all-day repetition on Fox News.

If you use the phrase long enough, much of the nation soon will be calling a covid-relief bill a blue-state bailout, although Texas is faring well in the bill and is not--yet--a blue state. A couple more Cancun commutes by Ted Cruz and it might be.

Republicans say that areas with urban concentrations are getting rewarded with extra money for being poorly run. They charge that better-run rural states--Arkansas, for example, Gov Asa Hutchinson will tell you--are getting short-changed for holding up better during the pandemic by applying Republican values, which seem to be economy first and health second.

Hutchinson has complained about the Biden administration using a formula based in part on virus-driven unemployment rates rather than simple population for divvying up half of the $350 billion set aside in the looming covid-relief bill for state and local governments.

"That's really a disincentive for economic growth and people working," Hutchinson has said, somewhat oddly.

The "disincentive" argument seems to be that no-account blue states will be motivated to keep their people unemployed so they can get more relief money from the federal government if a handy pandemic ever comes along again and Democrats happen to be in charge at the time.

I'm not sure liberals in the Democratic cities are quite that forward-thinking.

The formula in question distributes about $170 billion on a per-head basis among states and cities and counties. It allots the rest on a complex formula hinging on unemployment rates.

Arkansas indeed will get less that way than on a strict per-head distribution. California and New York and mostly but not all blue states will get more. Texas, as mentioned, will do well.

There are three basic variables--one health, one economic and one political.

The virus was most dangerous to health among large concentrations of people. So the population centers faced a more urgent need to lock down than did rural regions, which gets us to the economic variable.

Urban areas had more to lose economically from the virus, being destinations for restaurants, entertainment and conventions as well as centers for service industries--all inordinately hit by virus restrictions.

Workers living in exurbs could stay home and do their jobs rather than drive into the cities each day to feed the usual cash into the usual urban bustle.

Cities also were the centers of government, which faced greater costs, and medical care, which faced greater pressures.

Then there is the political variable. The states with more crowded population centers, which run heavily blue, tended to have Democratic political leaders seeing a greater virtue in going into lockdowns more quickly and staying in them longer than, say, a Republican governor like Hutchinson in a sparsely populated state like Arkansas.

Hutchinson can boast that he kept the Arkansas economy substantially open and on solid footing through the pandemic and shouldn't be penalized in federal relief.

Democratic leaders in heavily populated blue states can explain that they necessarily emphasized health and life-saving and fully deserve special consideration in federal relief because their economies had to go on idle earlier and stay idled longer.

Indeed, necessity and convenience were as significant as political philosophy in the open-closed debate.

It is naïve, no doubt, to wish the nation could see rebuilding from the pandemic as a matter of all of us in the fight together, rather than urban versus rural and red versus blue and governors emphasizing one thing and other governors emphasizing another.

Economic "relief" for the pandemic would necessarily vary according to economic damage from the pandemic.

Maybe the most to be hoped for is that some people will hear themselves.

I nominate those on the rural red right who say as many do that money to state and local governments was not needed for covid relief, but that their states aren't getting enough.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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