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The Senate Budget Brawl

By Greg L | 28 February 2008 | Virginia Senate | No Comments

Tonight’s “Cucinelli Compass” gives what is probably the best account of what happened in the Virginia Senate today that will likely emerge from non-blogger sources. I had the pleasure of witnessing this amazing event while waiting for a Senate Courts of Justice Committee meeting for HB 623 that never happened due to this Senate session running into triple-overtime, and this is pretty spot on. The key take-away here is that finally, the Senate is going to debate issues as a body of partisan elected officials should, rather than relying on calls for “collegiality” to avoid having actual debates on the issues that matter to Virginians.

I would add to this my impression that Senator Colgan displayed visible discomfort at being forced to choose between supporting his Caucus and voting his conscience. After hours of what must have been considerable pressure from Dick Saslaw and other liberal Democrats who control the caucus, Colgan stood his ground instead of taking a walk during these votes, which deserves credit. I’d have wished that his convictions would have held more firm earlier in the session when similar votes came up, but in this case Chuck followed through on his promises to the voters, and that’s one for the good. Chuck, you get a pat on the back for this one.

Here’s the report:

For the first time this year, the Republicans got one of our budget amendments adopted! It was my budget amendment to deny taxpayer funds to Planned Parenthood. This is an amendment that has been before the Senate before, but it has never been successfully passed in the Senate.

This year, however, was different. Our Republican caucus stuck together in support of the Planned Parenthood amendment, and we were joined by Finance Committee Chairman, Democrat Chuck Colgan to reach a 20-20 tie. Not surprisingly, Lt. Gov. Bolling voted for the amendment, and it passed 21-20. Now, it wasn’t a simple path to get to 21-20, with about 4 hours of wrangling over procedure, but I’ll discuss that below.

After the consideration of amendments, the budget was passed, but it had the overwhelming opposition of the Republican caucus because it still raids the lottery funds, grabs way too much money from the rainy day fund, and creates new programs (like Gov. Kaine’s pre-K) at the expense of core services like transportation. Oh yeah, and then there’s those gas tax dollars still included…

From the moment I put in the amendment today, the Dems were scrambling to try and prevent a vote on the merits on the amendment. They even invented a couple of new motions and tried those out… to no avail.

Then they scoured the House budget for language that was similar to my proposed amendment. The House budget had an amendment to block funding for Medicaid abortions except under limited circumstances (e.g., life of the mother, rape, incest), and the Dems were prepared to argue that because the House abortion funding amendment had been rejected in the Senate (by the Dems), the subject had already been considered and ruled upon under Rule 47 of the Senate Rules.

Now, mind you, I had prepared multiple amendments, including (but not limited to) an amendment to block Medicaid funding of abortions and an amendment to block embryonic stem cell research, both in addition to the Planned Parenthood amendment. And I had already asked the Senate Finance Committee (SFC) staff if there was language in the House budget addressing ANY of these three amendments, as I knew that if they were in the House amendments that I needed to address them at a different point in the process to avoid the Rule 47 trap that the Dems wanted to spring.

The SFC staff told me that there was language in the House budget similar to my amendment to block Medicaid funding of abortions, but there was NOT language like the Planned Parenthood amendment.

One problem was simply that the amendments sounded very similar, so I was worried about losing the amendment on Rule 47 challenge. Thus, I rewrote the amendment to solve that problem, and on we went.

At that point (4 hours later…), the Dems seemed to run out of steam, and we pressed ahead with the amendment. I introduced the amendment and explained it, and then Janet Howell and Dick Saslaw went hyperbolic on us.

Senator Janet Howell (Fairfax Dem) got up and actually argued that passing this amendment would lead to women seeking illegal abortions… though she was quite unable or unwilling to explain how passing the amendment would have such results (presumably because that would not be the result). This kind of baseless hyperbole is about as close as the abortion industry allies in the Senate ever get to actual “debate.” So much for the high minded exchange of views in the Senate.

Then the Majority Leader, Dick Saslaw (Also Fairfax Dem [seeing a pattern here?]), added his own bit of hyperbole by threatening us all with the prospect that if the Planned Parenthood amendment were passed, “your pet project could be next!” Of course, this implies that funding Planned Parenthood is a “pet project” of Senator Saslaw’s… an interesting revelation.

The whole 4+ hour process revealed something more than just disagreement over this amendment. The Dems literally brought the Senate to a screeching halt for over 4 hours to try and derail this little amendment. Why? Because their caucus is now dominated, particularly the leadership (aside from the Finance Committee Chairman), by super-liberal Democrats that are happily beholden to the most vigorously pro-abortion elements of their base (and I distinguish that from those that are merely pro-choice on the issue). This is consistent with their stacking of the Education & Health Committee 10-5, a partisan margin wider than any other committee in the entire Senate. Why did they do that? To kill any bill that had ANYTHING to do with abortion, and that’s exactly what they’re doing.

The budget debate will next move to the conference committee. The Senators that I understand will be on the conference committee will be Colgan, Houck, Howell, Saslaw, Stosch and Wampler. I don’t know who the House conferees will be yet. The conferees will begin trying to resolve the differences between the two budgets over the next week.

Note that all of this is begin done with a Governor in the background who has been using the budget as a political payoff to Planned Parenthood since the 2007 election. Gov. Kaine cut abstinence funding while keeping Planned Parenthood funding. I guess that tells you who’s side Gov. Kaine is on.

We may be half way through the path to a final budget, so we’ll see what happens the rest of the way. In closing, I must say that I appreciated my entire caucus sticking out the sparring over the Planned Parenthood amendment and voting for the amendment. It was clear half way through the day that one side or the other was going to break, and thanks to a united caucus, it was the Dems.

Here’s today’s record on this bill, HB 30, from the LIS website:

02/27/08 Senate: Constitutional reading dispensed (40-Y 0-N)
02/27/08 Senate: Read third time
02/27/08 Senate: Reading of amendments waived
02/27/08 Senate: Committee amendments agreed to
02/27/08 Senate: Reading of amendment #1 waived
02/27/08 Senate: Amendment #1 by Senator Cuccinelli withdrawn
02/27/08 Senate: Reading of amendment #2 waived
02/27/08 Senate: Amendment #2 by Senator Cuccinelli agreed to (20-Y 20-N)
02/27/08 Senate: Chair votes Yes
02/27/08 Senate: Defeated by Senate (23-Y 16-N)
02/27/08 Senate: Chair ruled 4/5 votes required for passage
02/27/08 Senate: Reconsideration of defeated action agreed to by Senate (40-Y 0-N)
02/27/08 Senate: Motion to recommit to committee rejected (19-Y 21-N)
02/27/08 Senate: Chair ruled 4/5 votes required for passage
02/27/08 Senate: Ruling of Chair Not Sustained (18-Y 22-N)
02/27/08 Senate: Budget floor amendments agreed to available
02/27/08 Senate: Engrossed by Senate as amended
02/27/08 Senate: Passed Senate with amendments (22-Y 18-N)
02/27/08 House: Senate amendments rejected by House (0-Y 87-N)
02/27/08 House: VOTE: — REJECTED (0-Y 87-N)
02/27/08 Senate: Senate insisted on amendments (40-Y 0-N)
02/27/08 Senate: Senate requested conference committee
02/27/08 House: House acceded to request
02/27/08 House: Conferees appointed by House
02/27/08 House: Delegates: Putney, Hamilton, Sherwood, Cox, Hogan, Joannou
02/27/08 Senate: Conferees appointed by Senate
02/27/08 Senate: Senators: Colgan, Howell, Houck, Saslaw, Wampler, Stosch

Note that it took over four hours for all of this to happen, with the Senate going into recess so it could browbeat Chuck Colgan, and try to negotiate with Ken Cucinelli about his amendments.  After this was unconstitutionally passed without the required 4/5 majority (since a Senate amendment to this was changing what lottery money would go to, which is constitutionally determined) the House of Delegates voted 87-0 to reject what the Senate had done to this bill.  Now it goes to conference, where somehow, perhaps, a compromise will get worked out.  It should be interesting to see what happens with this group of conferees, as Senators Saslaw and Houck absolutely demonstrated that compromise is not something they’re much interested in.

It’s time to start taking bets on whether this session is going into overtime.  I see a lot of lines getting drawn, and no one is showing any willingness to give an inch.  Maybe, as a result, we’ll get a fiscally responsible budget this year.

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