Senate Democrats Should Refocus, Not Retreat, on the Budget

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    by Paul Goldman

    The Governor refused to listen to the voices on Blue Virginia, suggesting the ultrasound debate would be an ultra loser for him nationally and locally if he didn’t watch out. Some of us presented it in a 200% proof political context, others in a purely substantive issue paradigm. Now that the dust has cleared, it appears McDonnell tried to find high ground in the middle: he killed personhood, and wants to go with the amendments to Kathy Bryon’s ultrasound compromise.

    As we have said before, on balance, this seems a poor risk vs. reward play for McDonnell, both in Virginia and around the country. He gains nothing politically, nor does it him win any gold medals on substance.

    But so much for Culture Warrior in Chief: now comes the Budget War.

    The Virginia Constitution requires 21 elected Senators to pass a budget. This cuts LG “Bolling Alone” out of the mix; he gets to sit in the presiding chair and wonder what AG “Have Brief, Will Travel” is doing.

    Senate Democratic Leaders Big Mac and Little Richard (Saslaw) have their 20-instrument orchestra all together, giving their rendition of Laurie Morgan’s country hit: What is there about NO that the GOP doesn’t understand?

    With no Democrat willing to vote for a budget, it can’t pass.  

    The GOP is predictably trying to claim Democrats want to shutdown the government or some such, releasing letters and the like saying it is all about a power play over power sharing.

    The GOP is smart to try and turn it into a power play battle: there aren’t 50 people in Virginia who understand about internal Senate rules, or much care how many Democrats sit on this or that committee; it doesn’t affect their lives.

    It is true that more Democrats on this or that body might have made X or Y legislation impossible, or at least far more unlikely to pass. But this requires following the bouncing ball and this is a very bad political argument to make to the general public.

    What people want to know is this: Why is the Republican budget bad for me and the Democratic budget better?

    By “me”, I don’t mean purely selfishness; it includes your beliefs and social spirit.

    Let’s put it this way: If this is spun as a procedural argument, the Democrats figure to lose it and possibly big.

    As a substance argument, the odds shift in favor of the Democrats in my view, possibly big depending on the PR strategy.

    McDonnell endorsed the original ultrasound bill before knowing its real substance. To him, it was just a procedural thing — if you want to prove your street cred on abortion to the GOP base, you back anything that can be spun that way.

    Once he realized the substance, he had to retreat.

    This budget fight is different than the one we spun to Mark Warner’s advantage in 2001. Why? Back then, it only appeared to be a case of a deadlock producing no budget on July 1. In truth, the budget fight that year was over adjustments to the second year of the budget.

    Thus, there was a budget in place for July 1, whether the Senate and House and Governor agreed. So while we ran against the failure to pass a budget, this was technically true, not literally: there was a budget in place, just not the usual modified one.

    That’s not true this time; we are in the second year of the budget, meaning a new one is slated to start on July 1. Thus, as a legal matter, the failure to produce a budget would indeed lead to a government shutdown, there being no appropriation for funding anything. This is not going to happen, since any party getting nailed for that might as well fold up in Virginia.

    So in 2001, all sides had the “luxury” (or so they thought) of not agreeing to the amendments to the old budget. It was a political miscalculation.

    But here in 2012, that “luxury” doesn’t exist.

    Meaning: The Democrats will have to agree eventually, and they know it.

    Further meaning: The Democrats need to get their message on the substance out big time as soon as possible. The public cares about the product, not the process.

    So as long as they have a good feel for what the Democrats are fighting for in terms of how it benefits everyone’s “me” side, then the Democrats have the upper hand and freedom to maneuver.

    The ultrasound debate gives Democrats a stronger platform on substance right now.

    Logic says they should announce their “10 Budget Improvements to Make Virginia Even Better” kind of thing.

    You need to give yourself room to drop a few, to show you are being reasonable. But if you can get anywhere near 5 of them, then it is a huge win.

    Now it can’t be pie in the sky, but good solid stuff that puts the GOP on the defensive.

    10 Commandments, 10 Bill of Rights, 10 is good number for this kind of thing.

    3 is too little, and a 59-point plan like Romney’s economic thing is just silly.

    7 is a lucky number, but 10 is double digits and tends to work better.

    Have simultaneous press conferences in all key media markets.

    Write an OPED for distribution around the state and over the Internet.

    Do a YouTube video thing, and establish a twitter account, Facebook page.

    The beauty of the Democrats’ position is that Republicans, by going first, have a static position to defend and not from high ground either.

    Learn from McDonnell’s ultra mistake. Once a static defensive posture breaks down, it is always bad news.

    Martin Luther nailed all his stuff to the wall. That would have been a classic YouTube moment alright.

    Once Democrats convince the public the battle is over key points of substance for the good of the state, it is game, set and match.

    Of course, the trick is to be seen as proposing good stuff as opposed to the not so good.

    From what I have read, Democrats have a lot of really good substantive points the public will agree with. Provided they get a chance to learn about them.

    • Mike1987