Down in Concord

Survival in politics requires denying mistakes and sticking with the policies you advocated, while blaming others for the bad results. — Thomas Sowell

Suppose that you have a term paper due June 20. You have known for months that it will be due that afternoon. Would you begin your research on June 17 and start writing it on June 18? Would any of us wait until the last minute to start work on the paper?

Well, that is what House Democrats are doing with the state budget. They have known to a certainty that the Senate would amend their budget. They have known officially since June 6, that the Senate did in fact amend the budget. They have known for literally years that a Committee of Conference is how the legislature resolves differences between the House version and the Senate version of a bill. Last Wednesday, June 12, the Senate formally agreed to a conference.

House leaders, knowing that there are major differences to resolve, could have scheduled an all day conference last Friday, the 14th. They could have met through the weekend. Instead, they have scheduled an informational meeting for Monday, June 17, and the first work session for June 18. The conferees will have two and a half days to reach an agreement on 800 pages of budget bills, and then a few hours to write their report.

The House leadership and the Governor know that the current state budget ends June 30. Without legislative action the state government will have no authority to spend a dime after June 30. In theory, the state government will shut down July 1 unless the House and Senate agree on a budget.

One wonders if the Democrat leaders of the House are deliberately trying to create a budget crisis. They had the option to schedule twice as much time for conference meetings. (The House controls scheduling of House bills, including the budget bills; the Senate controls scheduling of Senate bills.) Are they scheduling so little time because they plan simply to accede to the Senate’s recommendations? Somehow I doubt it. Do they expect the Senate to quickly give in? Bad idea.

If the House Democrats are not playing a game of chicken, knowing that a deadline is approaching and hoping that the Senate will blink first, then what are they doing?

Perhaps they are planning a government shutdown and they will blame it on Senate Republicans. But why would they think that would work? When two sides cannot agree, which side is at fault? The Senate is proposing a 7% increase in spending. That is hardly a cut. They offer a larger amount than the House proposed for HHS spending. Why would anyone think that the shutdown would be the fault of the Senate more than of the House?

There are only two ways to avoid a government shutdown July 1. The usual is to pass a budget and for the governor to sign it (or at least not veto it). The second is to pass what is called a Continuing Resolution (CR). In essence that is a short-term extension of the current budget. Spending would continue at the current rate for about a month. That gives the two sides time to negotiate a full two-year budget.

The current rate of spending is roughly 10% less than the House and the Governor have proposed. So one would think they would prefer the Senate budget, which would allow about 7% higher spending.

Perhaps the Governor plans to call a Special Session to pass a new budget. A CR would allow the government to operate until a new budget is passed. But why would the the Governor and House expect the Senate to pass a budget significantly higher than what they just passed?

To this short-term budget watcher and to other long-term watchers, the current budget process doesn’t make much sense on the House side. Given the June 20 deadline for the budget conference to file a report, we will know the budget plans in a few days.

*****

In the meantime, the House and Senate are in Conference on 40 bills other than the two budget bills. Some conferences started last week on June 10 and 11 and seven have already reached agreement. Others won’t start until this coming Monday, Tuesday, and even Wednesday. Since all reports are due by Thursday, I expect that the committees not meeting until Wednesday will deal with very small differences that can be resolved quickly.

By Thursday afternoon, we should know the story for all bills. Next Wednesday, June 26, the House will meet to vote on all conference committee reports.

 

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