As the state legislative overtime session drags along and Statehouse types begin half-joking about October as a possible adjournment date and pass on rumors that the governor is prepared to continue doing one-month budgets until January if necessary, it may be important to take a step back from the brink and take a look at where we are.
This fight between House Speaker Michael Madigan on one side and Senate President Emil Jones and Governor Rod Blagojevich on the other has often been described as a contest to show which man has the biggest... um... "appendage." But a buddy of mine thinks it's much worse than that. "It's not whose is bigger," he said, "It's a fight over who has one." Obviously, this type of thinking needs to stop.
The governor's demand for "more, more, more" from a new budget just isn't matching up with reality and is perhaps the most frustrating thing about this overtime session. Because we're in overtime, it takes three-fifths of all members to pass a budget. The Republicans are at the table now, and they're definitely not on board for the governor's tax hikes and grandiose budget schemes.
Senate President Emil Jones may have 37 Democratic votes on paper, one more than the minimum three-fifths required to pass anything now. But at the very utmost on the best possible day Jones has 35 votes for a budget plan that spends more money than the allegedly insufficient House-passed proposal. Two Senators are way on the outs with Jones - Sens. Tony Munoz (D-Chicago) and Lou Viverito (D-Burbank) - and it's highly unlikely that either can ever be brought back into the fold.
Maybe presidential wannabe Barack Obama could call his old buddy and TV ad pitchman Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) and get him to switch sides to help out his "mentor" Emil Jones. Dillard recently cut a television ad which is currently airing in Iowa that praises his former state legislative colleague. But for now, the Senate Republicans seem to be siding with Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan's concept of a slow to no-growth budget.
Frankly, the House Democrats ought to just call this gigantic bluff by Jones and Blagojevich. The two men have tried to blame the continuing overtime session on Madigan, but they won't concede that they simply don't have the votes to accomplish their goals. Madigan should just tell Blagojevich and Jones to pass a new budget, and then he and his Democrats will come back into session and approve it. They won't be able to find enough votes for that, of course, so perhaps their rhetoric will cease and desist.
House Democratic members, meanwhile, need to grow some stones. They let Speaker Madigan talk them into voting for a budget in May that they all knew was a fantasy. Downstaters and suburbanites voted for it knowing that their regions got little while Cook County's Stroger Hospital was given a whopping $100 million.
Yet now some are complaining that the governor is ginning up opposition to their budget vote back in their districts. Yes, the governor isn't making things any easier by singling out legislators for abuse, but they voted for the darned thing.
After a handful of House Democrats signed a letter that called on Madigan to move on with negotiations and abandon the very budget plan that they had voted for, several meekly retreated after receiving a phone call from Madigan asking that they remove their names from the letter. Say what you will about the Senate Democrats, but the rank and file in that chamber has managed to rein in Emil Jones on more than one occasion and regularly challenges his decisions. The House Democratic caucus, on the other hand, just sits there and eats whatever the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz feeds it.
And then there are the Republicans, who regularly say what they don't want but rarely say what they could accept. They're at the bargaining table now, and even though the governor hasn't actually yet encouraged any vigorous debate during the budget negotiations, they need to eventually help find some common ground with the Democrats as a whole or we'll be stuck in this overtime forever.
OK, I feel better now.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.