Just when the public must have thought things couldn’t get any worse in the O’Brien-controlled New Hampshire House, a new bottom was plumbed this week. What I am about to report still seems more like fiction, but no, no, no, I can’t write fiction. I just can’t make this stuff up. It’s all true.
After passing a consent calendar (that means all reports pass without objection) early Wednesday morning, the House, as its last action late in the day, voted to table six of the bills it had passed unanimously six hours earlier, including one bill which allows the department of corrections to transfer items in its budget so as to help meet the demand of $13.5 million in reductions for the biennium.
The bill, to provide maximum flexibility for the department, was to take effect immediately upon passage. Rather than pass the bill, the House, in the throws of insanity unseen since O’Brien cost the state $3 million by his marital masters pissing contest with the Senate last fall, the House decided that a power play is more important than responsible governing.
The power play involves sending a message to the Senate—hey you guys kill (either by outright no votes or by interim study) our bills and we’ll kill yours. This “mine is bigger than yours mentality” is fit for a back alley brawl, but it’s hardly the kind of responsible government people have a right to expect from their leaders.
Here's the entire text of a statement from Senate leadership following the House action Wednesday:
"CONCORD – Senate President Peter Bragdon and Majority Leader Jeb Bradley released the following statement in response to moves made by House Leaders today with the intent of scuttling Senate legislation: “At a time when we should be focused on helping New Hampshire employers and supporting hardworking families, the House’s actions today will ensure the defeat of critical legislative initiatives. We are appalled the House has chosen to play political games with legislation widely recognized as being important to the state’s economy and job creation.”
In this case, I agree with Senate leadership. In fact, "appalled" is the perfect word to use, but then the people of our state have become used to appalling actions by O'Brien and his minions.
But wait...it gets beter.
Rather than do the dirty work themselves, Speaker Bill O’Brien and Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt sent first term Rep. George Lambert, R-Litchfield, up to proffer the motion. Yes, this would be the same Rep. Lambert who has announced his intention to run against Donna Soucy for State Senate. (Oh happy day, Donna!).
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not averse to legislative hardball—the Senate deserves a good slap up side the head occasionally, but to play games when millions of dollars are on the line is beyond the pale.
Make no mistake, Republican House members knew the game they were playing because when Lambert asked that all six bills be tabled as a package, I noted that I would be willing to table some of them but certainly not this corrections bill (SB323) which had emerged from Finance with a 23-0 vote. As a member of Division I, I knew about it; I had sat through a lengthy hearing with corrections personnel; and I made the motion and was scheduled to write the blurb for the bill…until that strange thing happened and I asked to non longer serve on that committee. After all, we wouldn't want people with knowledge and enough courage to stand up and tell the truth on that commitee, now would we? Only hacks need apply; no thank you, I'll take my independence over hackdom any day!
Am I making this stuff up?
Of course not.
However, the House decided to table all six bills. Forget about timeliness in saving $13.5 million! After all, we stuck a match to three million last year in a fit of hubris by the Speaker. Forget about doing the responsible thing.
Republican Rep Brandon Guida actually said it’s good that we stand to lose money if this bill isn’t passed now; it’ll put more pressure on the Senate.
Oh really, Bob? How did similar pressure work last fall when the $3 million was in play and the House tried to force the Senate back into session over the marital masters issue?
Not so well!
This is a legislature totally out of control, and even level-headed Republicans, who in past years would never have acted so irresponsibly, have now had their senses ground out of them by the bully at the podium (choosing to use a pawn named Lambert in this instance).
Surely, this bill can off the table and be passed next week, right?
Not quite because we have just received word that next week’s session has been cancelled, apparently another ploy to try to bully the Senate.
The House also attached non-germane amendments, such as the 24-hour wait for abortions, to Senate bills, a strategy which could backfire and lead to the defeat of these good bills, but who cares about that?
After all, we’ve got a radical right wing social agenda to pre-empt the fiscally prudent agenda we promised to enact!
The fact that Bill O’Brien has chosen to play games rather than act as a responsible adult is shocking, but far more shocking is the fact that those who know better, people like Gene Chandler and Neal Kurk and Bill Belvin and Key Weyler, people whom I had always respected—and I could go on and on here—just sit back don’t say a word to stop the misuse of power.
Here's proof of cowardice. When I spoke with one Republican Finance member yesterday, I said, "I guess you didnt agree with me that we should have passed this bill." The double negative response was, "It would not be true to say I didn't agree with you." In other words, he or she agreed with me, but voted the against his/her own beliefs.
Can this possibly be true? Only in the age of O'Brien!
It harkens back to 2003-04 when Republicans, thanks to income taxer Mark Fernald at the top of the Democratic ticket in 2002, enjoyed tremendous advantages in both the House and Senate, and Craig Benson was sitting in the Governor’s chair.
Remember what happened?
Rather than get things done, the legislature, thanks in large part to then-Senator/current lobbyist Robert Clegg, couldn’t get an acceptable budget passed. A Benson veto was upheld, and government went on auto pilot for a few months.
This was better news for Democrats than anything out of the pen of Ray Buckley or Kathy Sullivan ever could be. Benson was thrown out of office; Republican majorities were cut way back and by 2006, Republicans were thrown out of power in both House.
Cue the Talking Heads.
“We’re on the road to nowhere…come on along.”