After enduring national media attention that Virginia legislators and Governor Bob McDonnell fielded over ultrasounds and “personhood” the Republicans found something to hang on the Democrats. They are wielding a public relations campaign to shift the discourse to the failure of the Senate Democrats to vote for a budget. The Senate Democrats rejected even their own proposed budget.
Governor Bob McDonnell realized that two could play the “media” game.
McDonnell was first in a press release: “Senate Democrats may have put a timely budget at risk. I understand that their reason for this action is disappointment over the committee seats they hold. Essentially, with their vote today, they appear to have put committees ahead of communities. This is not the Virginia way. Throughout the budget process I, along with Senate Republicans, have repeatedly asked Senate Democrats for their input, ideas and proposals regarding the budget. My office is ready to help facilitate productive discussions at any time.”
Richard Saslaw, Democratic Senate Leader, and Donald McEachin, Caucus Chair, responded to the governor: “We submit the Senate Democrats are speaking loudly about how to come to an agreement on the new biennial budget. We must fund the core responsibilities of government in a fair and just manner. The electorate voted a split in the Senate in hopes for centrism – not radical imbalance. As leaders, we take our stand for fiscal responsibility and for meeting the needs of Virginians very seriously. We are eager to work with you to craft a budget that works for all in our Commonwealth, rather than simply scoring partisan political points.”
The Virginia Municipal League, businesses and most recently the Virginia Association of Counties have weighed in. There are even radio spots that are negatively targeting the Senate Democrats.
“It’s a matter of deadlines,” William Kyger, Jr., Rockingham County Supervisor said. “(Counties) are required by the laws of Virginia to accomplish our budgets by certain dates. I don’t understand why the General Assembly can’t set a date or deadline as well. And they need to do that. We’re asking them to do nothing more than their constitutional responsibility.”
Senate Democrats responded to the VACo, “Recent history proves that local governments have been largely unaffected by previous budget disagreements. State funding for the current year is stable through July 1. That’s 116 days from now. That leaves almost four months for Republicans and Democrats to reach a compromise on the budget — and Senate Democrats are committed to working with Republicans to create a budget that includes all Virginians, not just some.”
We concur with your observation that we are now in uncharted waters. No precedent exists for
the imbalanced power in this evenly divided Senate.”
In an interview, Roanoke’s Senator John Edwards said, “Had the Senate been organized the way it should be, we would not have this kind of budget and you would not have extreme social legislation coming to the floor. The Senate structure was gerrymandered and doesn’t reflect the equal division in the committees. That is the basic problem,” said Edwards.
Senate rules have always stated that it takes 21 votes to sustain the ruling of the chair. Edwards said, “Since they could not then come up with 21 they [arbitrarily] said the old rules don’t apply anymore.” They began using George Mason’s Manual Rules of Procedure that only requires 20 votes to sustain the ruling of the chair instead of 21. “On January 11 the old rules evaporated,” said Edwards. “Legally you continue with the old rules until you change them or else you have no rules.”
“Did we have a vote to change to using George Mason’s Manual? – No, you need 21 votes for that,” said an exasperated Edwards.
The easy way out of the impasse is for Republicans to reorganize the Senate a little. So far they’ve dug their heels in, he said.