Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bishop-Dillon Agreement Starts to Unravel, Time to Play CYA

That's "cover your ass" for the abbreviation-challenged readers out there. The Mike and Andy Show hit the road yesterday, laughing and grinning for the cameras at the Detroit Economic Club breakfast, while back at the ranch, both Democrats and Republicans were stuck doing the heavy lifting on making, literally, "life and death decisions" over the now famous agreement that the two had signed. The game now appears to be a matter of figuring out how much these two can get away with when it comes to forcing other legislators into taking votes they don't want to take, and sliding a cobbled-together-at-the-last-minute budget past the governor who stands poised with a veto pen.

Dillon is now backtracking on the cuts he agreed to just last week. Watch him backpedal in Gongwer (and other places in the media), trying to placate health care providers who are absolutely furious about the Medicaid cuts...

The speaker, acknowledging that some of the proposed cuts are "pretty aggressive," singled out Medicaid reimbursement rates to hospitals and physicians, citing the potential impact on the Detroit Medical Center, which treats a huge percentage of the state's Medicaid population. Mr. Dillon said the impact of the cuts on the DMC would be devastating.

"He's finally got that place solvent," Mr. Dillon said of DMC chief Mike Duggan. "I don't want to do anything to disrupt the positive trend at the DMC."

... as he dumps the responsibility onto the conference committee charged with fulfilling his agreement with Bishop.

On Friday, Sen. Roger Kahn (R-Saginaw Twp.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Community Health Subcommittee, told Gongwer News Service that it was possible the House-Senate conference committee on DCH would need to ask for more funding. Mr. Dillon said it might not be possible to meet the $2.23 billion target for the department.

"Gary McDowell is putting in the college try in getting to that number," Mr. Dillon said of Rep. Gary McDowell (D-Rudyard), who serves on the conference committee with Mr. Kahn. Mr. McDowell, too, has said the budget needs more revenue.

And as far as revenue sharing goes, he passes the buck to Rep. Fred Durhal to simply "look elsewhere" - as if that magical place still exists after years and years of cuts.

Mr. Dillon also said he has asked Rep. Fred Durhal (D-Detroit), chair of the House Appropriations General Government Subcommittee, to look for cuts elsewhere in that budget to put some money back into revenue sharing. The $163.4 million cut to revenue sharing has alarmed local governments.

"I think those cuts are too deep," Mr. Dillon said.

If the cuts to revenue sharing and health care are too deep, why on earth would Dillon sign an "agreement" in the first place? He said back in June that the “Senate-passed budgets fail to address what is necessary to turn Michigan's economy around. Eliminating Promise Scholarships and cutting funding for police and fire protection will not create jobs and jumpstart Michigan's recovery", so he can’t claim that he didn’t realize what was going on here. Apparently he made the agreement so he personally could avoid having to do the hard work of putting together a budget. With the time we have left, the goal now is meeting the minimal requirements to slide something past the governor.

Mr. Bishop said the plan to which he and Mr. Dillon agreed is the only viable option to get a budget finished by September 30.

"It's our only shot at getting it done within the timeframe that we have," he said.

Asked whether the agreement would contain enough measures to satisfy Governor Jennifer Granholm, who has criticized the Bishop-Dillon agreement, Mr. Dillon said, "Enough to get the bill signed."

But can they get it past the rest of the Legislature? House Republicans are looking to extract more concessions from Dillon in return for their votes.

MIRS talked to Minority Leader Elsenheimer, who indicated that "up to a dozen" House Republicans aren't willing to take the fall on revenue sharing and health care, and that any votes they do concede will come with conditions.

"We're certainly willing to cooperate," Elsenheimer said. "But we need to hear from the Speaker as to what he expects and what he would like to get. Also, we need to discuss what would be the appropriate consideration we could expect for these votes."

As far as Bishop goes, he can just sit back and laugh at the Democrats at this point - although there was this curious sentence in MIRS that seems to indicate he would take a vote for taxes before it came it a government shutdown.

Chiming in with that optimistic prognosis was Senate Majority Leader Mike BISHOP (R-Rochester), who noted, "My confidence is with the Speaker and if the Speaker's confident, I'm confident." Asked if he would shutdown government before voting for a tax increase, Bishop said nothing is worth shutting down government over.

But Bishop also reiterated again that he hasn't made any promises about looking at new revenue. Ever.

So, what we have now is a last minute deal that seeks to strong-arm Democrats into voting against party principles to fulfill Dillon's ambitions for the future. He and Bishop are already looking to next year's budget, and are once again promising "reforms" - even though everyone conveniently forgets that is what Dillon promised for this year as well. Back in January, Dillon called for the budget to be done by summer break in June, and said that tax reform should be completed by then as well. From the DNews (now archived):

House Speaker Andy Dillon launched the legislative session Wednesday with a call for lawmakers and Gov. Jennifer Granholm to forge a bipartisan overhaul of the state tax system, and put it on the statewide ballot as early as this year.

The Redford Township Democrat said the proposal should be drawn up and ready for a vote by the time the Legislature takes its summer break — usually at the end of June. It should comprehensively tackle the state's tax structure and make it more conducive to job growth, he said.

And here is Andy yesterday:

Mr. Dillon said he would like the Legislature to begin working on the 2010-11 budget in October and wrap up work on it by January - and complete tax reform in tandem.

Right. Just as soon as he can figure out how to screw over the Democrats on that one as well.

Rumors of removing him from his leadership position continue to circulate, but Dillon doesn't "sense that there is a coup building". He also stated that if he runs for governor, he would run as a Democrat.

"I would run as a Democrat," he said. "I value the role of the Democratic Party in this state and country, which is fighting for the underdog."

Try not to bust out laughing at that statement, because what is going on here is tragic. Speaker Dillon has thrown both his own caucus and supposed party principles under the bus as he made promise after promise this year that all of this would be taken care of on time, and at the very last minute turned around and joined forces with Senate Republicans who have done nothing but obstruct House legislation at every turn. Now he tries to make himself look good for the media as other House Democrats will be asked to pay the price for his betrayal.

But hey, if that is the kind of leadership that House Democrats want, don't come crying if you lose your job because of it. If all the Democrats are going to do is buckle under to minority Republican demands anyway, it's probably better if Republicans have the majority so they can take the blame for the devastation.

Too bad that all of the devastation is going to happen with this budget, and Democrats will take the blame for the "bipartisan" agreement. They now have one week to figure out if they want to help Andy Dillon's career, or help the citizens of the state of Michigan.

Go. The clock is ticking.