Wash. Republicans try to take over Dem budget
Originally published March 2, 2012 at 5:16 p.m., updated March 2, 2012 at 8:32 p.m.
Abortion insurance bill dies in Senate
OLYMPIA (AP) — A bill to link abortion coverage to maternity care has died in the Washington state Senate.
The bill was caught up in a Friday afternoon Republican budget coup, in which the GOP peeled off the necessary three Democratic votes to introduce an austere budget plan.
The abortion measure, HB 2330, had passed the House and Democrats expected it to have the votes necessary in the Senate, but two attempts to bring it to the floor were narrowly voted down in the aftermath of the budget coup.
The bill is likely dead for this session, but could be taken up again in a special session — and could be used as a bargaining chip in budget negotiations.
Supporters say the bill would ensure continued access to abortion coverage once federal health care reforms are enacted in 2014.
OLYMPIA (AP) — Senate Republicans on Friday used a rare procedural move to seize a philosophical majority and take over the Democrats’ budget plan on the Senate floor.
Three Democrats broke from their party to allow the procedure — known as a “Ninth Order” — to take place.
Republicans, who are in the minority, needed Democratic support to make the bold move. Three Democrats — Sens. Tim Sheldon of Potlach, Rodney Tom of Medina and Jim Kastama of Puyallup — voted with Republicans in favor of going to the Ninth Order, which allows any bill to be pulled to the floor, even those that haven’t had a public hearing.
“This is not a way to write a budget,” said Sen. Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat who wrote the Democrats’ budget. “This is breaking faith with the bipartisan efforts we’ve worked on for the past year.”
Republicans called for four bills, including a budget bill that was Gov. Chris Gregoire’s original budget proposal from November. They already had their own amendment, known as a striker, to attach to that budget, essentially allowing them to put up their own budget proposal for a vote.
Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, called the Republicans’ amendment a “dark, backroom, secret document.”
“We shouldn’t be doing this,” she said.
In an attempt to delay the Republicans from being able to bring their bill to the floor, Democrats tried different motions, including having the Senate take a break so Democrats could caucus, but they were voted down. However, a request for the clerk to read the governor’s original budget bill was made Friday evening, and it was read for well over an hour until they decided to take a break so that Democrats could work on amendments to the bill.
“Where’s the transparency?” asked Gregoire, who said she was angry that the bill Republicans were proposing had not had a public hearing, and that she and other Democrats had not seen it until they moved it to the floor. “This is not how we do business in Washington state.”
Gregoire met with House Democratic leadership while events were unfolding in the Senate. She said any negotiations over a budget would start from the proposal House Democrats passed earlier this week, not the bill that inevitably would be voted on in the Senate Friday night.
“It hasn’t seen the light of day,” she said of Republicans’ plan. “The public hasn’t been able to say a word.”
Republicans have argued that the Senate Democrats’ budget plan, unveiled earlier this week, doesn’t focus enough on reforming state government. The Republican plan unveiled on the floor Friday does away with the Democrats’ reliance on a $330 million delay in payments to school districts to help balance the current budget deficit. The Senate Democrats had proposed to make the delayed payments permanent, meaning school districts that typically get a major disbursement at the end of June will instead get it in early July.
The Senate Democrats’ plan is similar to a House proposal unveiled last week, which had about $400 million in delayed expenditures. Murray said that shift in the calendar allowed lawmakers to avoid further cuts in education at a time when other legislators are looking at deeper reductions.
Murray said this week that he didn’t yet have the 25 votes needed to pass the budget, and so Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt said Republicans felt they needed to take their opportunity. Democrats hold a 27-22 majority, but the support of several moderate Democrats was up in the air. Once Republicans knew they could peel off Democratic votes, they moved.
“Somebody had to get things going,” he said, criticizing what he said was lack of cooperation from Democrats to implement Republican ideas early on.
“This is not about partisan politics,” he said. “This is about trying to get things to work right.”
The Republican plan also focused on several reform bills that they sponsored but didn’t get traction, including a pension reform bill. The summary released by Senate Republicans also shows that their plan would reduce the amount of state funding to state employee health benefits, reduce bonuses for teachers and would eliminate a program known as Disability Lifeline, a welfare and health care program for unemployable adults who aren’t covered by federal Social Security benefits.
Kastama said he had no regrets about going against his caucus.
“It’s necessary that we get another budget in play and we start negotiating with the House with a budget that is more balanced,” he said. “Things have been so shut down. They need to be opened back up.”
House and Senate Democrats must try to come to an agreement on the budget before the 60-day legislative session ends March 8, or else face going into overtime and a special legislative session.
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