Over the weekend, Republicans in Virginia pulled off an extraordinary feat. Faced with a state senate deadlocked at 20-20 and a battle with Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe over whether to accept the expansion of Medicaid, they apparently persuaded a Democratic senator from a conservative district to retire, thus giving them a majority and making it even less likely that McAuliffe will be able to get 400,000 low-income Virginians health insurance. And all it took was delivering a couple of jobs:
RICHMOND — Republicans appear to have outmaneuvered Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a state budget standoff by persuading a Democratic senator to resign his seat, at least temporarily giving the GOP control of the chamber and possibly dooming the governor’s push to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (D-Russell) will announce his resignation Monday, effective immediately, paving the way to appoint his daughter to a judgeship and Puckett to the job of deputy director of the state tobacco commission, three people familiar with the plan said Sunday. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
I know what you're thinking: forget "outmaneuvering," isn't that bribery? Legally speaking, the answer may be a little murky. But this demonstrates that when you combine Republicans' fervent opposition to allowing poor people to get health coverage with their innovative and resourceful procedural creativity, you have a powerful force.
And that procedural creativity is undeniable. Faced with a tied Senate, Virginia Democrats just sat on their hands bemoaning their fate. But Republicans, men and women of action that they are, found a novel solution to their problem.
I've been writing for years about how Republicans are just willing to go farther than Democrats when it comes to stuff like this. They recognize that there are rules governing political behavior and there are norms governing political behavior, and the latter can be violated without much consequence. At key moments, they say things like, "Well, what if we just filibuster everything? There's no rule against that." And there isn't, so they do.
The Democrats are sometimes willing to take similar steps (like changing Senate rules to require only a majority vote on some judicial and administration appointments), but more often it's Republicans finding novel ways to shut their opponents out of the process or keep the wrong people from voting. They may not have a lot interesting ideas when it comes to making policy to solve societal problems. But faced with a political challenge, they show a truly inspiring level of imagination.