Two years ago, Gov. Mills and Democratic leaders pulled a bait-and-switch on Republican leaders, passing a so-called “baseline” majority budget on a party-line vote, then a supplemental budget with bipartisan support.

In a stunning display of ineptitude, Republican leadership seemed to have no idea that was coming. Party leaders had no plan to try to fight it, gain politically from it or punish the Democrats for it in any way, shape or form for it. Essentially, they did absolutely nothing – other than issue a few news releases complaining about it. They couldn’t have stopped the Democrats from passing the budget, but Republicans could have done more than just whine about it – and they didn’t even do that very effectively.

Despite months of talk and a new set of leaders on the Republican side, we find ourselves in the exact same place yet again, simply because Democrats are so fundamentally opposed to giving hard-working Mainers some of their own money back. Indeed, even though the state has a budget surplus, Democrats are still trying to raise taxes, not just resist cutting them. Raising taxes when the state already has more money than it needs would be fiscal lunacy, pure and simple.

It’s no wonder that a last-ditch effort to cut a deal behind the backs of taxpayers failed. Indeed, there’s every reason to believe that, having successfully pulled this bait-and-switch before, this was the Democrats’ plan all along. Sure, Gov. Mills will yet again publicly bemoan the lack of a bipartisan compromise, but the fact is that if she really wanted that, she could simply veto any majority budget. If Mills is willing to sign a majority budget, it means that her professed desire for bipartisanship amounts to nothing more than empty words.

The question is whether Republicans will actually do something about it this time. It would be nice to think that, under new leadership and with the wisdom of hindsight, Republicans would behave differently. If they want to actually do something for a change, Republicans do have a few options to make life difficult for Democrats – and draw attention to their shady tactics.

For the rest of this legislative session, there is much they can do to gum up the works on other bills. They can make sure that every bill gets a divided vote in committee, forcing floor votes on even uncontroversial legislation and chewing up valuable time. They can’t completely halt the business of the Legislature, but they can make it much more cumbersome for the majority, slowing down the entire process. They can offer as many amendments as possible, both in committee and on the floor, to further delay the process and force longer debates on every bill.


For legislation that’s already received a unanimous report out of committee, they can request that it be removed from the consent calendar and force a floor vote. They can make motions to indefinitely postpone or table bills, forcing votes on those as well. None of these tactics will change the outcome on any votes in and of themselves, but they will register Republicans’ discontent with the Democrats’ budget tactics far more strenuously than even a strongly worded press release.

They can also make it clear that, for the rest of this Legislature, they will withhold their votes on any legislation that requires two-thirds support, whether it’s an emergency bill, a bond package or a future supplemental budget.

After all, if Democrats were willing to go it alone and abandon their colleagues to get the budget they wanted, why should Republicans keep bailing them out on other legislation? If they want to throw away bipartisanship when it comes to the budget, it should be off the table for nearly everything else for the rest of the session as well.

Finally, there’s another option open to Republicans: a people’s veto of the budget itself. A people’s veto allows the voters to weigh in on any bill, provided enough signatures are gathered, and once they are, it’s put on hold. In practice, this would force Democrats back to the bargaining table, since putting it to a vote would result in a months-long shutdown of state government.

Hopefully, Maine Republicans are willing to employ some of these tactics and actually do something about the Democrats’ hypocritical partisan budgeting gimmicks. If they don’t, it shows they haven’t learned anything, and it’s hard to see how the new Republican leadership is any better than the leadership it replaced.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
Twitter: @jimfossel

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