Miller: Pressure builds on Dems to avoid legislative OT
By Rich Miller May 13, 2012 2:08PM
Updated: June 15, 2012 8:09AM
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton has been telling some of his members for weeks that he was resigned to an overtime session.
The General Assembly likely wouldn’t be able to adjourn by the scheduled May 31 deadline, there was just no getting around it, so people should just accept it and move forward, he said.
But then Cullerton (D-Chicago) reportedly came to the conclusion that if the spring session did go into overtime, the Republicans would likely keep everyone bottled up in Springfield all summer long. So, now his focus is on getting everybody out of town by the end of May.
May 31 is an important deadline because all bills voted on after that date will require a three-fifths majority to pass rather than a simple majority. That means no budget can be approved, no Medicaid solution can be found, no pension systems can be reformed without a three-fifths supermajority.
The Democrats control both legislative chambers, but they don’t have three-fifths of the votes in each. They’re seven votes shy in the House and one vote short in the Senate. One vote may not seem like a lot, but partisanship can sometimes get so intense in the General Assembly that one vote might as well be 100.
Cullerton has been hoping for bipartisan agreement on the three major and gut-wrenching issues facing the Legislature — Medicaid, pensions and the budget. And even though the Republicans deny it, Cullerton has come to the conclusion that the GOP is stalling everything to push the session into overtime to try to create as much political chaos as possible.
The majority party always takes the blame for overtime sessions, so tying up vulnerable Democratic incumbents in an unpopular and chaotic overtime session would further damage the Dems’ image and prevent members from walking precincts and going to events back home.
When I asked Cullerton about a Senate Republican demand that the state budget be cut far more than it was in a bipartisan agreement in the House, he shot back that “it’s just an excuse to vote ‘no.’ ”
The House approved that agreement, which limits state operational spending to $800 million below the revenue forecast, by a lopsided 91-16 vote in late March. But Senate Republicans want that spending limit lowered by another $1.4 billion.
State Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine), a GOP budgeteer, picked up sponsorship of the House spending cap resolution March 30, the day it passed the House. But Murphy has refused to call the measure for a vote in committee.
Committee chairman Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) asked Murphy whether he was prepared to move the resolution. Murphy’s umpteenth refusal prompted Democrats to demand that the Republicans “move their other budget recommendations in a bill.”
The fight over the House spending resolution is an important piece of evidence that Cullerton sees as proving the Republicans want to force an overtime session.
The Democrats don’t have enough votes to pass legislation on those big issues on their own right now, when bills only require a simple majority.
Steep budget cuts, slashing Medicaid and whacking union members’ pensions are not appealing to most Democrats. So they need the Republicans on everything.
Murphy admitted last week that his caucus knows the Democrats can’t pass a budget by themselves, so the Republicans are using their leverage to maximum advantage to force more spending cuts. Murphy also refused to make any significant budget proposals of his own, saying they should be negotiated.
Murphy said the proposed $2.2 billion in cuts would put the state on track to balance the budget by the time the temporary increase in the state income tax expires.
But Cullerton and the Democrats maintain that the Republicans just want to create chaos with a long and nasty overtime session that they can exploit for partisan advantage this fall.
Both sides are probably right. That gives me no comfort at all.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.