Toward the end of Animal House, the Delta House fraternity brothers make a decision. They are in so much hot water that, as Otter puts it, “this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.” Bluto adds, “We’re just the guys to do it.”
In Raleigh, Republican legislative leaders are poised this week to launch their own futile and stupid gesture, and they’re just the guys to do it.
The Deltas, about to be kicked out of college, figured they had nothing to lose. The Republicans, ensconced in safe gerrymandered districts, figure they have nothing to lose. So far, they’ve been right.
The Republicans are upending generations of history with a maneuver that blocks rank-and-file legislators from formally proposing any changes to the budget, either in committee or on the floor. Instead of having a budget bill go through the normal process, Republican leaders are putting a final budget into a conference report that requires an up-or-down vote with no proposed changes. The conference committee creating that report includes 65 Republicans and zero Democrats.
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It’s the height of arrogance, and it should offend all North Carolinians, no one more than fiscal conservatives. Legislative leaders are about to spend $24 billion in taxpayer money with almost no review, no alterations and no input from most legislators.
Why would they do this? Not so much to keep Democratic amendments from being passed. Facing Republican super-majorities, those would fail anyway. With elections just months away, it appears Republicans want to avoid voting against politically popular or sensitive proposals, such as higher teacher pay than they’re offering. They can see the ads now showing their “no” votes against teachers.
That makes sense, so why is this gesture futile? Because they are not fooling anyone. Their political opponents – and voters – will know what they’ve done (or not done, to be precise) for teachers and students. Preventing Democrats (or Republicans, for that matter) from offering amendments will not prevent them from having to defend their misguided policies.
Budget writer Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Hendersonville Republican, said he recognized Republicans would be criticized for a lack of transparency. “This process that we used, while it may be not real transparent, has been very efficient,” he told Kirk Ross of Coastal Review Online.
This is too efficient. Legislators are rolling out the budget on Tuesday and expect to have it passed by Friday. That’s a full month before the start of the budget year. Clearly there’s plenty of time for discussion.
It’s almost as if Republicans want to get out of session quickly so they can start accepting special interest campaign money again before the election. After all, this gimmick makes clear that legislators are focused on politics, not deliberative discourse to craft the best budget for North Carolinians.
So the ball ends up, as it always does, in voters’ court. Will they at last make legislators face consequences for their arrogance?