Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Labeling The Enemy

V.I. Lenin used to say that if you label an idea properly, you do not have to argue with it. On a similar line, if you find that a proposed amendment in Connecticut’s General Assembly is “not germane,” even when it is germane, you do not have to consider it.

That is what was done by Majority Leader in the House of Representatives Chris Donovan in the case of a Republican alternative budget submitted by Republicans as an amendment after Democrats and Governor Jodi Rell had decided to skip school.

Rather than confront the serious problems facing the state, which include but are not limited to a vanishing surplus and mounting spending, the Rell-Democrat combine chose not to tinker with a budget that later will require either severe spending cuts or crippling increases in taxes. This dereliction of duty, some have speculated, is related to the coming elections. Democrats, some critics have said, are loathed to raise taxes to cover anticipated deficits and burgeoning spending increases before the election, because they do not want the black mark on their resumes before plucked taxpayers march to the polls to vote.

Republicans this year proposed an alternative budget that did not permit Rell or the Democrats to bury their heads in deficit sand. It was quietly dispatched on the floor of the House.

When Republicans attempted to resurrect their alternative budget as an amendment to another bill -- HB 5617, An Act Making Revisions to the Charter Oak Health Plan -- Donovan objected that the amendment was not germane to the bill to which it was attached, an objection dutifully supported by the House chair.

Donovan is the chamber’s proto-typical liberal, though liberals these days have got in the habit of calling themselves progressives. Donovan, who served as House Chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, is a key sponsor of health care reform. He has worked strenuously to create a system of universal health care in Connecticut. Donovan’s insurance pool bill, glided through the House on a party line vote shortly after Amann announced he was surrendering his position to Donovan.

Amann, it used to be thought, was a fiscal conservative; Donovan, who earned his liberal badge of honor working for the Connecticut Citizen's Action Group where he focused on environmental, energy and housing issues, is a pro-labor, unapologetic redistributionist.

When the Connecticut Business and Industries Association, a pro business group, began to lobby against Donovan’s health reform measure, they were immediately accused by pro-labor forces in both the legislature and the press of shamelessly padding their own nests; the CBIA offers and insurance program to small businesses.

The chair’s ruling in favor of Donovan’s motion was rebutted by House GOP leader Larry Cafero, but the numbers overwhelmed principled argument and the amendment was crushed by a party line vote of 104-44.

Cafero noted from the floor that if the chair's understanding of "germane" were to prevail in every amended piece of legislation, the House had been doing things wrong for a long while.

It is not necessary that every point in an amendment, Cafero said, should directly relate to the bill to which it is attached. Amendments usually are accepted for discussion on the floor if in some measure they pertain to the bill. The amendment containing an alternative budget proposal introduced by the Republicans contained provisions related to the Charter Oak Health Plan.

The amendment offered by Republicans was deemed not germane for political reasons. Neither chamber of the legislature, dominated by Democrats, favored a discussion of the alternative budget because the Democrats and Rell’s office already had decided that no revisions of an early second year budget would be permitted.

Cafaro’s protest was to no purpose. Numbers rule in the House, not principled argument. The proper answer to Donovan and his minions is not better argumentation but more Republican feet on the floor of the House.

Republicans may be expected to argue during the coming elections that Democrats had refused to consider an alternative budget because by accepting Republican proposals to address serious economic problems as the state enters a time of diminishing returns, the Democrats, led by Donovan in the House and Senate President pro tem Don Williams, wanted to put off a tax increase until they had been safely elected.

Whether that point will resonate with a general public used to voting by instinct rather than a reasonable appreciation of their genuine interests is very much an open question.

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