A historic compromise brokered between conservative Republicans and Democrats in the state House of Representatives decided the course of this year’s state budget. But it was only a matter of time before diverging interests would fracture the coalition.
Apparently, the breakup came in only a matter of weeks after the legislative session ended.
Republicans in the House were far more disinterested in holding a veto-override session than Democrats, and the groups diverged in their votes on whether to hold a session to consider reversing the cuts Gov. Bobby Jindal made to the deal they reached.
Ultimately, the veto session was canceled when a majority of senators — Republicans and Democrats — voted against returning to the Capitol. It only takes one chamber to kill the session.
But while the House vote didn’t determine the outcome, it did show a more heavily partisan divide than the budget discussions during the legislative session that ended in June.
In the session’s final hours, House members on both sides of the political aisle praised their bipartisanship. They said it helped the Legislature devise a rare budget independent of the governor’s office.
An unlikely alliance was struck between leaders of the House Democratic Caucus, the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus and a group of conservative House Republicans known as the “fiscal hawks.”
They crafted a budget deal in the House that upended Jindal’s spending plans — and they held together as the budget moved to the Senate, to keep the House as a player in the final version of the bill, rather than a rubber stamp to the Senate’s vision.
By sticking together, the groups each won things they wanted in the final compromise.
“We developed a viable trust and common understanding,” Rep. John Bel Edwards, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said of the strategic union as session ended.
He said he hoped the relationship would continue.
But the fiscal hawks angered other members of the Republican Party who were more closely allied with Jindal and who bristled at the idea of giving in to ideas put forth by Democratic lawmakers in a majority-GOP Legislature.
As House Republicans try to mend the divided delegation, and since the fiscal hawks have won many of the long-term budgetary changes they sought, attention shifted. The bipartisan hand-holding dwindled with the idea of a veto session.
While Democrats in the House largely supported an attempt to reconsider Jindal’s budget cuts and bill rejections, far fewer Republicans in the chamber backed the efforts, and many hawks voted against holding the session.
Advocates for the disabled unsuccessfully tried to persuade lawmakers to return, angry over Jindal’s line-item vetoes of $6 million in planned spending for disabled services.
Forcing a veto session would have been a political blow for Jindal, since lawmakers have never held one under the current state constitution approved four decades ago. Apparently, it wasn’t something most Republican lawmakers wanted, including several fiscal hawks.
Fiscal hawk leader Rep. Lance Harris, who also serves as chairman of the House Republican Delegation, called the veto session costly and unnecessary.
Another fiscal hawk, Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette, said that while she didn’t necessarily support the governor’s budget vetoes, she also didn’t support a return to the Capitol.
“We did a compromise budget. Not everyone was satisfied with what we did. But I think we were independent and played our role. Now the governor has played his role, and that was what he was charged to do,” Champagne said.
Melinda Deslatte covers the Louisiana Capitol for The Associated Press. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.