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Budget Divides More Than Dollars
By Stephen J. Rossie

Square2017 imageRICHMOND – Early April usually brings about talk of the Reconvened Session of the General Assembly, better known as the "Veto Session,” the one-day mid-month meeting when both chambers return to Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol in order to consider the governor’s vetoes and amendments to bills that passed to his desk during the regular session. Not this year.

The session itself, for the most part, lacked drama, with neither party wanting to put itself too far out over the ledge. At one point a Republican senator privately asked if the House was going to send the Senate anything that didn’t pass with at least 90 votes.

The fact is, each session only a handful of bills passed truly are "controversial.” The veto session used to be a humdrum affair. That was until Terry McAuliffe came to town and made public spectacles of his vetoes, openly bragged about his Olympic-sized veto record and handed down poison pill amendments. The election of Ralph Northam, also a Democrat but a product of the legislature, and one-seat Republican majorities in each chamber, promised to produce lower volume legislative and veto sessions.

Then the aforementioned senator got what he wanted in the form of the controversial Obamacare-Medicaid-expanded House budget, which passed when 20 Republican delegates teamed up with all 49 Democrats. The noise level suddenly jacked up. It’s just that no one expected the clatter to come from within his own GOP ranks. Now, the veto session is taking a back seat to the special session, scheduled to start April 11, to complete the unfinished business of adopting a new two-year budget to take effect July 1.

Whatever happens won’t be as public as a McAuliffe veto signing ceremony. Most work will be done behind the scenes and lawmakers usually don’t formally gather in a quorum until conference committee members, leadership and the governor strike a deal.

That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been action in public. Conservative and liberal interest groups have pounded the airwaves and the sidewalks stirring interest in targeted House and Senate districts. Northam even held an event in a swing Senate district currently represented by Republican Glen Sturtevant of Richmond.

These campaigns have made for peculiar bedfellows as groups generally considered extremely left wing, such as Planned Parenthood, have defended the wayward House Republicans and are pressuring Senate Republicans to capitulate. There is no indication that any of the 21 Senate Republicans are peeling away. Conservative organizations, such as Americans For Prosperity, are defending the senators while trying to flip some of the 20 delegates.

Meanwhile, predictably, the intra-GOP haggling not only is public but has morphed into warfare. A resolution at a recent State Central Committee meeting commending Republicans who voted against the Obamacare-Medi caid expansion was defeated by one vote. More than a year out, GOP primary challenges already have been announced and more will come depending on the eventual budget outcome — and we’re told repeatedly that "social issues” are divisive.

The GOP has been through primary warfare before after bolting from party orthodoxy on budget and tax issues, notably in 2005 and 2011, but had comfortable majorities then. With majorities and redistricting at stake in the next election, Republicans trying to curry favor with the Left in a Quixotic, desperate search for Democrat voters in 2019 at the expense of a motivated conservative base will find themselves left out in the political wilderness.

 





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