Mark Eves’ budget brinksmanship


For the last week and a half, the left has been seeking to preemptively blame an impending government shutdown on Ken Fredette, and the House Republicans.  But don’t let that blustering political spin fool you.  If the government shuts down, it will be the fault of Democrats in the House of Representatives, and Speaker Mark Eves.

Oh, I know, that sounds like partisan finger-pointing.  You are free to take it as such, but it is very much the reality.

This all started with a deal that was cut between the Senate Republican leadership team, and Mark Eves early last week.  That plan, which included a constitutional amendment that would require a two-thirds vote for any future tax increases, immediately incited backlash from Minority Leader Ken Fredette, and unified the House caucus against the proposal.

To them, the Senate Republicans had given away the farm for nothing, as the constitutional amendment would not have prevented any of Maine’s past income tax hikes.  Worse, the plan had no income tax cuts, had no welfare reform proposals, andspent significantly more ($294 million over the last biennium) than the original LePage proposal.

Fredette and his “Gang of 68” pledged not to vote for the compromise deal, which provided the opening for the left to say the House Republicans wanted to shut the government down.

In reality, the Senate GOP / Eves deal never had much support.  The Senate GOP caucus itself, outside leadership, was very split on the plan, Democrats weren’t exactly in love with it, and it would never pass the House.  So even as the Appropriations Committee voted 9-4 to send it (and a minority budget proposal) to the floor, negotiations had begun on the next round of dealmaking.  Something new would have to be drawn up.

And something new was.  Reports Tuesday confirmed that a deal was on the verge of materializing that would include income tax cuts, the sales tax remaining at 5.5%, some extensions of the sales tax, and some not yet agreed to terms on welfare reform.  But then something happened today.

Mark Eves pulled out of negotiations.

And why? Because Eves lost his caucus. After negotiating a deal, he couldn’t sell the compromise that had been reported in the press to his own members, and it was clear that they would vote no on the budget, if that was what the final deal looked like.

Because he couldn’t control his caucus, he has apparently now backed out of all negotiations, and is attempting to go back to the majority budget from Appropriations (the old Senate GOP / Eves deal). Word is, though — and at this point it is all the rumor mill — that the constitutional amendment is off the table, so one has to imagine that the Senate GOP, which was already split on it, may no longer have any interest.

All through this process, the Democrats have viewed time as their friend. The more time eclipsed, the closer to the shutdown date we would get, and the more pressure (they thought) would be on the Republicans to make a deal that was favorable to them.

Liberal lawmakers have been fond of this tactic for decades, because they can use the leverage from a threat of a shutdown — a threat they created by delaying — and a demand for impending action to get what they want. Conservatives can either go along with that and get trounced in the dealmaking process, or get blamed for a shutdown.

It is extortion, plain and simple. The legislative Democrats are not serious about anything resembling income tax reductions, welfare reform, or spending discipline, that much is obvious. Despite just being handed a major defeat at the ballot box on those very issues, they wish to preserve the status quo, and spend nearly $300 million more than we did in the last budget.

Rather than take seriously the will of the Maine voter, they know they can use the threat of a shutdown to get Republican agreement to do nothing about those policy goals, or to gain political leverage by blaming a shutdown on conservatives who are insistent that Maine voters be taken seriously. And so the Democratic caucus and Mark Eves walk away, seeking to again delay long enough to create leverage around a proposal that would give them essentially everything they want by preserving the status quo.

If the government shuts down, remember that. Mark Eves, and the House Democrats will be the ones responsible if that happens.