FEIGENBAUM: Will Democrats hold out until some warm April day?

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Since there is not a whole lot of legislative action to report on—nor to preview—this week, we’ll probably fill up this column with more trite cliches than you’ve endured in a long time. Of course, if you’ve been closely monitoring coverage of the legislative stalemate, you may have already run across a few (dozen) of them.

The immovable force meets the irresistible object, and the outcome is predictable: an impasse. House of Representatives Democrats largely remain bunkered en masse in Urbana, Ill., save occasional individual appearances back at town hall events in their respective districts.

We presume they’ve taken advantage of such opportunities to drop by home (if not the House) to pick up clean underwear and some loungewear that declares their loyalty to an Indiana college or university of their choosing, instead of the University of Illinois sweatshirts they’ve been reduced to buying at Kohl’s or Macy’s during their self-imposed exile.

House Republicans voted to assess $250 per-day fines for absent members. Headstrong Democrats had decided to forgo their per diem payments in roughly the same amount (albeit just as Republicans were ready to require Demos to show up in person at the Statehouse to collect).

Democrats labor in Urbana on assorted amendments to objectionable legislation, but if gas prices continue to rise to $4 per gallon, the cost of commuting, especially with their wallets a bit lighter, may find them lying low in the Land of Lincoln even longer.

Even as the House hijinks continue unabated, the Senate continues its regular business, answering the question about what one hand clapping might sound like. The sole concession the Senate has made to the lack of House action has been temporary forbearance by Senate Committee on Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, on budget hearings. That moratorium won’t last long, however, as the Senate tries to salvage something substantive from the attenuated session.

So what will happen?

Frankly, you have to be channeling Charlie Sheen to truly believe you know what’s next in this unique saga.

The Indianapolis hotels and restaurants that are so dependent upon the steady stream of expense account legislative business January through April probably have a better grip on the status of the National Football League negotiations between players and owners toward a labor agreement that would keep the Super Bowl in Indianapolis next February than they do on what might happen just next week in the negotiations between House Democrats and House Republicans.

That lack of knowledge is largely because there are no real negotiations, even as Democrats slowly pare down their list of demands that focus on education and labor issues.

Watch after the basketball tournament to see if House Republicans seek to extend the deadline for consideration of all theoretically dead bills. If they do, Democrats may perceive this as the final gauntlet being thrown down in front of them.

Leaving Charlie Sheen-like proclamations out of the picture, history and an understanding of the personalities and dynamics suggest two potential basic outcomes:

First, House Democrats could agree to return after the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament, with the understanding that some noncontroversial matters that had been left lingering on the Second and Third Reading calendars will be advanced to the Senate quickly, and that they may offer amendments to some of the objectionable education measures that will be taken seriously (recall that there will also be some GOP amendments to voucher and charter bills that Democrats will embrace). Democrats would likely insist that a big chunk of their fines be waived, and Republicans would probably insist on some serious penance, such as allowing the budget bill to effectively be a Senate-driven document that will not be amended back in the House.

Second, Democrats could hold out until some point in April, and return simply to consider redistricting and budget measures (or both combined into one bill, as in 1991), in which case they still would have no voting clout. But House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, insists he will not countenance a limited agenda as a condition of their self-extradition, and we would assume the 19 House freshmen—the same group that forced Bosma’s hand on the right-to-work bill that touched off the walkout—would literally mutiny if their entire agenda were left by the legislative wayside.

Neither option appears particular palatable to either party, nor are they truly feasible. That’s why every veteran observer tells us they don’t see an end-game scenario offering both sides an opportunity to save face, a critical element in legislative brinkmanship.  

Both House parties have backed themselves into corners of a round room, and this session may be, as the legendary A.J. Foyt might put it, “just done blowed up; we’re finished.”•


Feigenbaum publishes Indiana Legislative Insight. His column appears weekly while the Indiana General Assembly is in session. He can be reached at edf@ingrouponline.com

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