Trump to cruise lines: If you want American coronavirus relief, try being American companies first

If companies want America to bail them out, perhaps they should bail back into America first. Donald Trump had spoken repeatedly about the financial beating that cruise lines had taken since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, and perhaps those corporations just assumed that they could access the COVID-19 rescue package once it passed.

And you know what happens when you assume

Language in the 883-page bill passed by the Senate says that to be eligible for aid from the $500 billion fund, companies must be certified as “created or organized in the United States or under the laws of the United States” as well as having “significant operations in” and a majority of employees based in the United States.

Major cruise companies have located their primary headquarters overseas, which for years has allowed them to pay almost no federal taxes and avoid some U.S. regulations. To staff their ships, the companies rely heavily on foreign workers from the Philippines, Indonesia and India.

The industry’s trade group, the Cruise Lines International Association, acknowledged Thursday that the major cruise lines weren’t included in the package, despite providing a plan to policymakers, meeting with Vice President Pence, and a phone call from Micky Arison, chairman of the Carnival Corp., to President Trump.

“For the more than 421,000 people in the United States whose jobs are supported by the cruise industry, we will continue to work with policymakers to help our community recover from the impact of this pandemic,” said CLIA spokeswoman Bari Golin-Blaugrund.

Last night, Trump sympathized with the plight of cruise lines, but noted that these companies haven’t done much to invest in the US. If the cruise lines want the protection of American taxpayers, they should join their ranks first, Trump said:

“They have thousands and thousands of people that work there, and almost maybe as importantly that work on shore filling these ships with goods and products,” the president said Thursday. “The cruise line business is very important.” …

“I do like the concept of, perhaps, coming in and registering here. Coming into the United States,” Trump said at Thursday’s daily briefing on the coronavirus response. “It’s very tough to make a loan to a company when they’re based in a different country.”

The exclusion of cruise line providers from the CARES Act was one of the more bipartisan components of the relief bill. Yesterday afternoon, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) tweeted out his advice for operators, after the New York Times’ Ken Vogel noted their concerns about being barred from relief:

That echoed previously declared opposition from Senate Democrat Richard Blumenthal, Roll Call notes, and House Democrat Peter DeFazio. The idea of providing taxpayer support for companies that locate outside the US to avoid taxes and regulations was a non-starter. The best that the industry got was support for travel agencies in the US from programs aimed at keeping small- and medium-sized businesses afloat until the economy returns to normal.

As Vogel put it yesterday, it was “rich” that they lobbied for relief in the first place. They made a rational financial decision to incorporate in places like Panama and Liberia and offer jobs largely outside the US. They have benefited from that arrangement, while American taxpayers and workers largely have not. They should seek succor from the countries where they set up shop, not the country they rejected. When US flags fly on those ships with home harbors like Miami, Chesapeake, and San Diego, and the companies that run them pay US taxes and hire Americans, then we can invest in their future during tough times.