Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed back on his predecessor's suggestion that states return unused federal COVID-19 relief money to pay off the national debt.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., governor from 2011-19, last month sent a letter to the nation's governors and mayors, calling on them to return unused federal COVID-19 relief funds.
In the letter, Scott noted that Congress passed a law last year that allows returned funds to be used to pay down the federal debt.
DeSantis, considered a potential contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, on Wednesday was asked about Scott's suggestion.
"If you look at how much money that is … it's like $100 million, $200 million, a few hundred million," DeSantis said after announcing his framework for the state's 2023-24 fiscal budget.
"How much dent would that make in the debt? I mean, seriously. I appreciate when federal folks are concerned about how we're managing this. Why don't they get their house in order? Why don't they stop spending so much of our money?"
A Scott spokesman told Politico that DeSantis should stop spending money from a "wasteful" bailout.
"Senator Scott opposed these state and local bailouts from the start," spokesman McKinley Lewis told the outlet. "That's why he worked to change the law to allow this money to be sent back to pay down America's $31 trillion debt so governors and mayors could responsibly return unused taxpayer money."
In his letter last month to governors and mayors, Scott said the COVID-19 "funds were not targeted nor did they help families in need."
"Instead, many state and local governments are now swimming in extra cash, with some using funding intended for 'COVID relief' as a slush fund for their completely unrelated pet projects, like new prisons, airport gate expansions, and golf courses," Scott wrote. "This is unacceptable, particularly at a time when families and small businesses are struggling to keep up amid a raging inflation crisis and stretching budgets to keep their businesses open."
In 2021, DeSantis said it didn't make sense to return COVID-19 relief money because it would just go to other states.
DeSantis also criticized the COVID-19 stimulus package for offering more money to states with higher unemployment rates, which he said was unfair to states that had a more rapid economic recovery.
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