Early Sunday afternoon, the DFLers came out of their caucus meeting at the state Capitol like a football team that had just been given a Rockne-like pep talk. There was fire in their eyes.
“Let’s go!” said Rep. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, as they passed by his desk in the last row of the chamber.
They’d nod their heads at Hayden.
“Let’s get it done,” one of them said to Hayden.
“You’re going to hear DFLers sound like DFLers,” Hayden said to a reporter.
As the DFLers moved into the House chamber, they heard the chants of about a 100 AFSCME workers who had given up a part of this beautiful spring day to fire up their team.
“Override! Override! Override!” the workers chanted.
Sometimes, for a change of pace, the workers sang the chant to guitar music.
“OvERride, ovERride, ovERide,” they sang.
The Republicans, who’d held a brief caucus themselves, sat sprawled in their chairs, sometimes joking among themselves about the chants. Clearly they were confident that they weren’t going to budge, but they couldn’t help but wonder what the DFLers had up their left sleeves.
After a long delay, brought about for no apparent reason, the DFL unveiled its strategy at around 4:30. They’d try to hit the Republicans right in the heart.
Before trying to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of their $1 billion tax bill, the DFLers would try to override his line-item veto of the $361 million elimination of the General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) program. As DFLers continually said over the next hours of debate, this is the program “for the poorest of the poor, the sickest of the sick.” It’s been a program that has served Minnesota adults making less than $8,000.
Oh, they hit those Republicans with every DFL value they could.
Some DFLers were passionate.
“We’re one day, one accident, one medical condition from being in the same place they are,” said Rep. Larry Hosch of St. Joseph.
“We cannot balance the budget on the poorest of the poor,” said Rep. Carlos Mariani of St. Paul.
Some DFLers were pragmatic. They talked about how the $361 million whack — from the second year of the biennium budget — would causes thousands of workers at hospitals and medical facilities to lose their jobs.
Two views of Jesus
They cited Hubert Humphrey and Jesus Christ in speaking to the worthiness of GAMC.
Bringing up Jesus, by the way, led to an interesting — though somewhat unclear — counter attack from Rep. Michael Beard, R-Shakopee. Beard’s a businessman but has his degree from Bethany College of Missions and apparently has a largely different view of Jesus than the DFLers do.
Beard started off fine.
“Don’t turn this into a morality debate,” he said. “Don’t stand on the floor and use the scriptures to beat me around the head and shoulders.”
Then, he wandered off to the true meaning of Jesus and it got a little foggy. He talked of Jesus performing a few miracle cures, but then he talked of how Jesus wouldn’t have been in favor of higher taxes, either.
In fairness, there were a few DFLers who weren’t making much sense either.
The key player on the Republican side of the aisle was Rod Hamilton, a pork producer from Mountain Lake. He fired off a few lines about how welfare people drive nicer cars than most of the rest of us do.
But his big attack lines centered around DFL priorities. He claimed that it was the DFLers who had messed up priorities, saying they spent too much of the session passing bills covering “earth worms, hockey arenas, bike trails, the Indigenous Earthkeepers bill and dog parks. It’s all about priorities.” He went on and on about how DFLers had wasted time.
It was pointed out that no dog park legislation ever reached the floor of the House and Rep. Karen Clark tearfully pointed out that the Indigenous Earthkeepers bill that Republicans were delighting in ridiculing was about giving a small amount of money to a program for Indian kids, who have abysmal graduation rates and frightening suicide rates.
No matter. This became a continued theme of the Republians throughout the debate. The DFLers had wasted the whole session on Indigenous Earthkeepers and dog parks instead of dealing with serious issues like balancing the budget and medical programs for the poorest of the poor.
(An aside: The House should consider using the National Basketball Association’s 24-second clock during debates. A speaker would get 24 seconds, a buzzer would sound and the next speaker would then get 24 seconds. As it is, once they have a microphone in their hands, most of the legislators seem unwilling to give it up, even when they’ve got nothing new to saw or even when nobody’s listening.)
Anyhow, it was a passionate debate and the DFLers thought they had a shot at winning.
They were wrong.
In the end, they didn’t sway a single Republican vote. All 87 DFLers supported overriding Pawlenty’s veto of GAMC, all 37 Republicans supported their governor, meaning the DFL was three votes shy of override.
The air went out of the DFL. If they couldn’t get three Republicans to side with them in supporting the poorest of the poor, they knew they had no chance of overriding the governor’s veto of the omnibus tax bill that would have created $1 billion in new taxes as part of the fix of a $4.6 billion dollar budget gap.
Oh, DFLers acted as if they still had a chance to convince three Republicans to support an override. They talked about how they — the DFLers — had been the responsible party in trying to fix the budget by using a combination of cuts and tax increases to create balance.
The Republicans responded by saying the DFLers had been irresponsibly wasting time for the first four months of the session.
And even though everyone knew what the outcome would be, the two sides traded barbs for a couple of more hours before the BIG vote on the BIG bill, the tax bill, was held.
In the end, the DFLers couldn’t even hold their own team together. Two DFLers, Gene Pelowski of Winona and Jeanne Poppe of Austin, joined the Republicans in voting against the override.
Where does that leave things entering the final day of session?
For the moment, it leaves the DFL predicting imminent job losses in health-related professions and in many public sectors as well. DFLers were predicting that by mid-week, two major hospitals, Regions in St. Paul and Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, will be announcing major job cuts. They predicted a total of 16,000 jobs will be lost because of the GAMC. (In all, the GMAC veto will cut 30,000 from the medical support system.)
Republicans aren’t buying.
For one thing, they’re saying that the Legislature can fix the GAMC program next session, since Pawlenty’s cuts come out of the second year of the budget. For another, they’re saying DFLers still can work with the governor on a series of compromises that might soften some of the cuts he’s threatening.
“He’s the adult in the room,” minority leader Marty Seifert said of the governor. “He’ll hold out his arms to the prodigal son [presumably the DFLers] and embrace you in a spirit of compromise.”
(Another aside: How about in addition to the 24-second clock, how about a rule prohibiting all religious analogies in House debates?)
The so-called compromises the DFL still could reach with the governor would be to agree to more than $1 billion in accounting shifts, which would help decrease the depth of the cuts.
As the House’s long debates ended Sunday night, the weary DFLers seemed to be of two minds on how to deal with the last hours of this session. They could still try to find some solace in those small compromises.
But the angry view is to let Pawlenty go it alone. Let the governor carry out his threats to balance the budget exclusively with cuts made through his use of vetoes and, after the start of the new fiscal year, unallotments. Let him own the budget he demanded. If hospitals really do close, if thousands do lose their jobs because of cuts to Local Government Aid and Health and Human Services cuts and cuts in education, if local property taxes skyrocket because of state cuts, let Pawlenty alone pay the political consequences.
House majority leader Tony Sertich of Chisolm seemed to be signaling that the DFL might just forego any more negotiating with Pawlenty.
In making one last DFL spiel to urge Republicans to join with DFLers in overriding Pawlenty’s veto of the tax bill, Sertich put it this way:
“You have two options. You have the option the Legislature put together [$1 billion in tax revenues] and then we’ll take up the shift with the governor and it’s done. The budget is balanced and we’re out of here. If you vote no [against override], you basically have certified unallotment.”
Sertich said if there was not an override the legacy of this legislative session would be: “We cut those Minnesotans who make less than $8,000 a year and we protected those Minnesota who make a million a year.”
DFLers think Minnesota is with them.
Maybe. In most polls, Minnesotans seemed supportive of some tax increases, especially if it was somebody else getting taxed.
But Pawlenty is not alone. He has his 37 supporters in the House and he’s getting positive reviews from some conservatives nationally.
For example, on the website of Americans for Tax Reform, there was a “news” article under this headline: “Gov. Tim Pawlenty: Hero of the Taxpayer.”
Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform. Norquist, you’ll recall, is the man who championed the “no new taxes” pledge Pawlenty signed six years ago.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.