Sunday, August 09, 2009

Speaker Dillon, Say Hello to Reality. Or Karma. Take Your Pick.

What goes around, comes around, or so they say.

The Michigan media, who fell all over themselves praising Dillon's plan to pool state employee health benefits, are now waking up to the fact that the Speaker doesn't actually have the plan committed to paper, and even if he did, he probably can't get the House Democrats to go along with it anyway. It was, at best, a theory that actually may some merit, but political and fiscal reality dictates that you have to have your details in place and the support lined up behind you before you announce such a sweeping vision, especially one that goes against the grain of both party principle and your major campaign donors such as the MEA.

If you don't have all your ducks in a row, the press will build you up, not bothering to check for such things as "facts" first, and then tear you right down again. And you can't count on other Democrats to go charging into the abyss with you, either.

Dillon hatched his plan on his own, without dealing in the Democratic caucus he leads or working with Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the state party leader. He did it without having a specific bill written or even a detailed white paper to explain how this would all work. And he did it by going first to the media -- the Free Press, in particular -- and letting his colleagues read about it later.

Oops. One House Democrat who supported Dillon for Speaker is now having second thoughts.

"Andy is normally very thoughtful," he said. "But he didn't bring any of the stakeholders to the table. And this thing will drive a real wedge between people. Meanwhile, he has got time to do press conferences but not to draft a bill or bring everyone together to figure out how this might work. His approach just sucks."

No doubt, Dillon had good reason to keep this idea from some Democrats before he announced it. He couldn't afford for the unions to get a head start in their opposition. And there are some members of the caucus who just won't ever come around to such a radical idea.

But by freezing out nearly all of his own caucus, and dropping his idea without a specific bill, he allowed himself, and his leadership, to become the issue. House members are questioning whether this is about Dillon floating a trial balloon for governor or positioning himself for some other office by upstaging other Democrats.

Sounds very familiar. Now, play the tape forward and watch as other House Democrats will run and hide (or even worse make anonymous quotes to the press), or go their own way and do their own thing. This next idea from George Cushingberry didn't make the traditional media, but it bubbled up in the Lansing rags, and leave it to MIRS to find the spin that will cause the Democrats trouble. He is floating his own health care plan, one that covers the entire populace, and he claims it will save the state $2 billion over an "unspecified period of time".

It's not on paper. He admits that it might be slowing down a budget agreement. He thinks the Senate Republicans are his friends. And like Speaker Dillon, his timing couldn't be worse.

The House Appropriations Chair also said he was probably responsible, to some extent, for slowing down budget talks because he was trying to work out a major reform in healthcare.

"It would save us $2 billion," Cushingberry said. "We'd take the $546 million, eliminate the grants and use it directly for fees for service. The way we're doing it right now is back-ass."

Cushingberry said that he is working with a pair of GOP Senators, Sen. Tom GEORGE (R-Texas Twp.) and Sen. Roger KAHN (R-Saginaw) on aspects of the idea.

That's just a couple of examples of how the center cannot hold, the caucus has started to scatter, and once again this gives Mike Bishop a chance to indulge in his favorite obsession, that is driving a wedge between the governor and the House.

“Having been in Andy Dillon’s shoes for a long time and taken the bullet on different things over the years, and being frustrated that we can’t look at tangible, real solutions that represent real reforms to structural problems, I feel for Andy because he has been under the thumb of the governor, and he has been in a position that he can’t be vocal about those kind of reforms,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop of Rochester told The Oakland Press editorial board.

Really, Mike? Please point out the "tangible" and "real" here, because there is nothing on paper that you can either vote for or prove as "savings" at this point, and the only reason Republicans are interested in this is they see it as their chance to bust the unions and split the Democrats at the same time. After all, a guy that hints that the "angry mob" is coming for you if Republican extremists don't get their way cannot be serious about any sort rational reform, can he?

Dillon is now approaching the unions for input on including collective bargaining in an attempt to sell and/or save the plan. On the very slim to none chance that he can get the unions on board with this, does anyone actually think that the Senate Republicans will go along with legislation that gives the Democrats a huge reform victory and protects the unions at the same time?

If so, there is a bridge over the Straits of Mackinac for sale at a very attractive price. Inquire within.

Better yet, let's go over the lesson of 2007 once more, shall we? Speaker Dillon thinks Mike Bishop is his friend, mouths Republican talking points with him all throughout the spring, disses Governor Granholm on the 2% plan. Bishop throws up roadblock after roadblock on both the '07 shortfall, the SBT replacement, and the '08 budget, running his big mouth to the press every step of the way, and Dillon doesn't say a word until Bishop's lie about their agreement starts to become an issue for the House. Bishop then stabs Dillon and the Democrats right in the back as he put Republican Party before state, which resulted in the government shut-down, a hasty tax on some services that had to be repealed, and the now infamous MBT surcharge that eventually replaced that.

What makes Speaker Dillon seem to think that something like that won't happen again? He, perhaps naively, still thinks that bipartisanship is possible.

Dillon says he wants to forge a long-term, bipartisan solution to Michigan’s chronic financial problems while investing in education and other services needed to help resurrect the economy. And he says many of the key decisions must be in the next few months, before lawmakers get sidetracked by an unusually busy 2010 election season.

“This town’s on fire,” Dillon said of Lansing. “We should put the fire out, not be worrying about who’s the next governor. The future of the state is in our hands right now. And that’s my focus.”

Too late, Andy. The game is already well under way, and anything you say or do is going to be used against you from here on out.

It's been said the Granholm didn't line up the House Democrats before she floated the 2% tax idea, but at least she had the presentation and the paperwork to back up her claims. It's also been said that Dillon did support it, and then backed out. While those of us who supported the plan may have been hoping for a bit of schadenfreude to visit the House Democrats, the taste of it now is actually quite bitter, as history appears to be repeating itself.

There is economic theory, and there is political reality, and the Speaker needs to figure out how to both navigate and marry the two together, something that always seems to elude the Democrats as a whole. Unfortunately, he is going to run out of time before he figures it out - and that is exactly what the Republicans have in mind.