senate

Will Session End On Time?

When the House of Delegates and Senate passed their respective budgets several days ago, the most glaring difference between the two, as anticipated, was the two chambers' approaches to Medicaid expansion. To wit, Obamacare in Virginia. The Senate included expanding Obamacare in its budget despite agreement last year with the House that the issue would be kept separate from the budget so it wouldn't become a stumbling block to passing a future budget. The agreement consisted of the creation of the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission, which has the authority to make recommendations to the General Assembly concerning expansion. Its charter is to formulate necessary reforms for the abuse- and fraud-ridden program that state and federal governments must accept before Medicaid expansion gets anywhere near a floor vote for approval.

MIRC has yet, after almost a year's work, to draft its recommendations for reform. Instead, it continued its efforts for another year. Despite last year's agreement and MIRC's continuation, three Senate Republicans — John WatkinsWalter Stosch and Emmett Hanger — joined all 20 Democrats to passing the Senate budget with Medicaid expansion in it. The Senate and Governor Terry McAuliffe want to backtrack on last year's arrangement and want Obamacare expanded immediately.

To emphasize its position, House Republicans offered a budget floor amendment, modeled after the Senate expansion plan. It promptly went down 67-32. House Republicans have maintained that it would be irresponsible to expand Obamacare because future costs would be so great that it could cripple the state budget.

They also argue that the program is wrought with inefficiency and fraud and have proposed a first-ever outside audit before any expansion can take place. By example, former Governor Tim Kaine refused a VDOT audit for his four years and closed rest stops and other unnecessary cuts. After he left office, the audit House Republicans sought finally took place and revealed more than $1 billion in waste. There's no telling how much waste an audit of Medicaid would uncover since it is much larger than VDOT — about 21 percent of Virginia's budget and growing fast.

Most insiders in Richmond believe that the battle over Obamacare expansion will leave the state without a budget well into spring, if not longer. A new budget must be adopted by June 30 or state government could theoretically "shut down" July 1. Governor McAuliffe has stated that he intends to veto any budget sent to him that does not include Obamcare expansion and willingly shut down state government in order to get his way — not this session's much referenced, bipartisan-and-honor-your-agreements buzz phrase, "Virginia Way." That means police and fire departments without funding, teachers without pay and roads unpaved, among other disruptions.

A few days after the House passed its budget, reports surfaced that that Governor McAuliffe threatened vetoes of legislators' unrelated bills if they didn't go along with expansion,  something his office quickly denied. But delegates took to the floor later to recount the governor's bullying tactics and threats.

The House and Senate remain in conference in an attempt to settle their budget differences. But if conferees cannot come up with a solution before March 8, the General Assembly will have to adjourn without a budget — an unprecedented scenario that is growing more likely by the hour during this last week of session. Also, should a budget not pass, or a budget pass without the continuation of the MIRC, some believe that the governor will unilaterally expand Obamacare. That action could result in litigation, leaving it up to Attorney General Mark Herring to choose sides on the issue.

If it all sounds like Washington style politics and not "The Virginia Way," you're right. It's what many predicted during the campaign if Governor McAuliffe was elected. Be prepared to watch this battle go on well into the spring, and beyond.

Virginia, and "The Virginia Way," isn't for shutdowns. But it may come to that. 

What The Media Calls Mainstream . . .

The face of Planned Parenthood in Virginia: Today was its lobby day at the General Assembly and this was the reaction this morning of one of its activists (and several behind her, see the raised arm) after the Senate Education and Health Committee reported out two pro-life bills and one to make the HPV vaccine an opt-in. Several Planned Parenthood activists were escorted out of the General Assembly Building by Capitol Police in a scene more reminiscent of Chicago or Wisconsin, than Virginia.

A rare glimpse by the mainstream media at the pro-abortion lobby's fury. (Photo is from Bob Brown of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. See article here.)

Cut, Cap And Balance; Or, How Come Crazy Spending Is Never Called "Draconian"?

Earlier tonight I saw U.S. Representative Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.), one of the biggest and most far-reaching leftists in Congress, on CNN's Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. (She's so far to the left that she doesn't think ObamaCare went far enough and supports the government-run single-payer system — click here to see her gleefully expound on the end of private insurance.) Mr. Blitzer asked Representative Schakowsky about the proposal known as "Cut, Cap and Balance" (see Tom McClusky at FRCAction's The Cloakroom Blog) to solve the impending debt ceiling crisis. Cut, Cap and Balance is the plan put forth by a coalition of members of Congress and conservative, free market and limited government think tanks and action groups that would cut federal spending, cap those levels, and pass to the states for ratification a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget. (Click here to see an archived webcast on "Cut, Cap and Balance" featuring U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, R-S.C., among other leading limited government proponents.) Ms. Schakowsky's predictable response perfectly illustrated the vacuousness and illegitimacy of The Left. First, she called it a joke (probably knowing her solution can't be called a joke, because it's more like a horror movie). But the real laugh came when she said "Cut, Cap and Balance" would force "Draconian cuts."

That got me thinking . . . how come the term "Draconian spending" or "Draconian increases" is never used? Or is a $1.5 trillion increase in one year not scary? How bad off were we two years ago when the annual federal budget was "only" $2.25 trillion? Where was the suffering then that The Left says we'll have tomorrow if we adopt "Cut, Cap and Balance"? Could it get worse than 9.2 percent unemployment? These Draconian spending increases don't even take into account the unimaginable sums ObamaCare will cost in future years (see ObamaCare Lies). The amount of printing, borrowing and spending in Washington, D.C., is literally crazy, because no one in a proper frame of mind would put their future or their children's and grandchildren's future at such risk.

Tomorrow, the House of Representatives will vote on the "Cut, Cap and Balance" package (see Andrew Stiles at NRO's The Corner Blog). It will pass. But what of its future in the Senate? Will it even get a vote? Or will it vote for what Representative Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) calls, "Cut, Run and Hide," also known as Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell's pass-the-buck plan (see Alexander Bolton at TheHill.com)?

Family Research Council Action President Tony Perkins offers his thoughts here and encourages people to contact their senators to vote for the former and to defeat the latter (click here to contact Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner):

Unfortunately, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) offered last week a plan to surrender. It would allow the President to lift the debt ceiling and only allow Congress a vote to stop it if it could garner a super majority. No cuts, no reforms, the McConnell plan is supposedly aimed at laying the political blame on the President. But when Senator Harry Reid immediately calls McConnell's plan "serious," one should question its wisdom.

With President Obama cynically leading from behind on this grave issue (read Senator DeMint's statement issued earlier this evening and that issued by House Speaker John Boehner), which has the potential to send the nation into a Greece-like morass, further debilitating our ability to lead the world and relegating America to also-ran status, it is time to take sound, firm and lasting action. "Cut, Cap and Balance" is the way to do it (see Brian Darling at The Heritage Foundation's The Foundry Blog). The Left may caricature it while making the nonchalant spending of trillions seem normal. But we all know the definition of doing the same failed thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

"Cut, Cap and Balance" is gaining momentum: 178 organizations and more than 190,000 citizens have signed the pledge.

Family Foundation Seeking Interns And Pages For 2011 General Assembly Session

The Family Foundation is preparing for the upcoming General Assembly session, which means we currently are in search of student interns and pages who can assist our legislative team in our advocacy work at the capitol. Both our intern and page programs offer students a valuable opportunity to experience the activities of a General Assembly session firsthand. There will be unique opportunities to observe legislative committee meetings, floor sessions of the House of Delegates and Senate, and much more. Candidates for the intern and page positions must have a pro-life, pro-family perspective on social issues and a Biblical worldview of the roles of politics, government and the church. The Family Foundation's 2011 General Assembly team will begin session work Monday, January 10 and conclude Friday, February 25. Students desiring more information or those interested in serving as interns or pages should contact Jessica Tseng by phone at 804-343-0010 or by e-mail at Jessica@familyfoundation.org. Here's more information about each position:

Intern Program (college students)

Interns assist staff in actively monitoring legislation, attending General Assembly committee meetings, research and writing, assisting with our annual Lobby Day, and development projects as needed. Candidates for this position should be available at least 2 full days per week, but preferably more. The optimal candidate for this position would be organized and self-motivated, able to work without constant supervision, and have some skill in research and writing. Both credit and non-credit internships are welcome. Parking is provided and housing can be arranged if necessary.

Page Program (high school)

Pages are responsible for the efficient maintenance of information within The Family Foundation's General Assembly Operations Room and information exchange between The Family Foundation and the members of the General Assembly. Pages assist Family Foundation legislative staff in the accomplishment of their daily tasks, delivery of information to the General Assembly Building, and administrative responsibilities in the development department. Pages are encouraged to work at least two (half or full) days a week. The more days a page is in the office, the more he or she will learn and experience.

Don't Bother Congress With The Budget, It's Got More Pressing Matters

This is primary day in Virginia and there are several contested Republican nominations to run for the House of Representatives this November. Several states also have primaries today — in both parties, and not only for House seats, but also for Senate, gubernatorial and other statewisde office nominations as well. Tomorrow morning the field becomes clearer, especially in Virginia, where all 11 House seats will have GOP nominees for the first time in years. That, and the number running today (several candidates in the 5th and 2nd districts, and even as many as four at one time in the overwhelmingly Democrat 3rd), shows the unqualified dissatisfaction and disgust with Congress. Wonder why?   From our friends at bankruptingamerica.org:

While President Obama impotently attempts to address the Gulf as it thickens with oil, Congress incompetently borrows and spends us into bankruptcy without a care.

What's Tim Kaine Been Up To?

If you are interested in what former Governor Tim Kaine has been up to since he left office in January, below is a truncated version of a letter sent to DNC members recently. Let's just say he's taking a lot of "pride" in his work. The letter was sent for Mr. Kaine by Organizing for America, President Barack Obama's nationwide community organizing group, which is an official "project of the Democratic National Committee." The president also declared June "Gay Pride Month" (see CBN News).

From: Tim Kaine

Subject: Share your voice this Pride Month

Friend -

LGBT Americans have helped build the Democratic Party into what it is today. And, as a leader of the party, I'm proud of our role in the struggle for equality.

That's why it's important to me — and to the future of this party — that we hear from you.

Take a moment to share your thoughts with us this Pride Month.

At times the pace of progress has not been as fast as some — myself included — would like. And, while equality cannot be achieved overnight, the President and our Democratic leaders in Congress have made important strides over the past 16 months to address barriers that LGBT Americans face.

- Last year, we passed the Matthew Shepherd & James Byrd, Jr., Federal Hate Crimes Act — which expanded the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation and gender identity and became the first federal law to provide protections for transgender Americans.

- In April, the President issued a directive, making critical changes to federal regulations and allowing gay and lesbian Americans to make medical decisions on behalf of their partners.

- And now we are on the verge of living up to President Obama's pledge to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The House just passed historic legislation to end this discriminatory policy, and the full Senate is getting ready to vote in the coming months.

But we are not satisfied. And we are not finished.

We must remain committed to making greater strides toward the fundamental American principle of equality.

Make your voice heard:

http://my.barackobama.com/PrideMonthVoices

Thanks, and happy Pride Month,

Governor Tim Kaine

Chairman

Twists And Turns Today On Health Care Freedom In Senate Commerce And Labor Today

Today, in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, the anticipated fireworks didn't materialize. But it sure did have some strange twists and turns. Although there wasn't as much hype concerning HB 10, The Virginia Health Care Freedom Act, there was due to be some suspense. The patron, Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas), had reason to be confident since three similar Senate bills escaped Commerce and Labor earlier in session, albeit by 8-7 votes, due to the brave votes of Democrats Charles Colgan (D-29, Manassas) and Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazewell). But HB 10 is worded slightly different. One difference from the Senate bills is that it clearly limits exemptions on insurance purchase mandates in divorce settlements, an omission Senate liberals objected to in SB 417, SB 311 and SB 283. On the other hand, its protections from the federal government are a little more expansive.

Stage set, here's what happened: Delegate Marshall barely was into the introduction of the bill when he got a few questions, including one from committee chairman and Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield), who asked, "Do you think we have the power to tell Congress what to do?"

Of course, the bill won't tell Congress what to do. Only that Virginia won't participate in a certain action (health care insurance mandates) that it may pass. In fact, Delegate Marshall cited a 1994 Congressional Budget Office memo during the HillaryCare debate, that stated never before had Congress mandate Americans to buy any good or service, and that doing so would open the door for other mandated purchases and a command economy. (Hopefully, our public schools still teach what political system uses a command economy.) He reasoned, that if Congress has never required an individual mandate before, it must not be legal, or it would have done so already in more than 200 years. He also cited New York v. United States where a federal court ruled in New York's favor over a federal mandate. Seemingly anxious to just get it over with, it was about here where Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25, Bath) asked if there was any difference between HB 10 and the Senate bills, which Delegate Marshall already had volunteered that there was. He amended his bill to preserve divorce settlements in which insurance coverage may be a part, something on which committee liberals hammered the Senate bills' patrons. On the other hand, his bill, in a macro constitutional sense (I love creating new phrases) was a bit broader and probably more protective of the feds than the Senate bills.

Before the committee's legal counsel and Delegate Marshall could complete their responses, motions and comments started flying all over the place. Senator Saslaw, confident that the differences were huge and that the bills were not the same, motioned that HB 10 be passed by for the year. Senator Frank Wagner (R-7, Virginia Beach) made a substitute motion to report. Senator Steve Newman (R-23, Forest) made a parliamentary inquiry if the bill could be conformed into one of the Senate bills. He was told no because the bills are in different sections of the code.

That struck me as odd right away because bills are conformed all the time. In fact, "conforming" is changing legislative language to the exact same language as another bill — in other words, that's the point! Change it and put it in any code section you want! So the motion to report was voted upon with Senators Puckett and Colgan upholding their part, but the bill failed 8-7. How could this be when the others passed? Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg) voted no.

As supporters gathered outside to plan a next step — primarily, to get Senator Norment to offer a motion to reconsider at the next meeting — word came out of the committee room to head back in: That's what indeed he was doing! So the bill was brought right back up, interrupting the introduction of the next bill. After the motion to reconsider passed, a motion to — believe it or not — conform it to SB 417 was made and passed on a 8-7 vote. So, HB 10 survives, amended to the same language as SB 417. You like unintended consequences (something liberals are always warning us about)? Good, because now the protections for divorce orders is gone!

It should now pass the Senate floor, where it will go back to the House. It remains to be seen if Delegate Marshall will then insist on his original language when it returns there and force a conference committee, or if he'll take what he has. Does he want pride of authorship? Or, knowing the other bill will become law, does he want to roll the dice and try to get the additional protections in HB 10 to become the law of the Commonwealth?

Planned Parenthood's Real (Partisan) Agenda

Today on the floor of the House of Delegates, SB 18, legislation that creates a pro-abortion license plate, was amended so that money raised from the plate will not go to Planned Parenthood. The identical amendment was placed on the House version of similar legislation earlier in session. The action by the House to divert the money from Planned Parenthood to the Virginia Pregnant Woman Fund has caused a verbal hissy fit from the pro-abortion lobby. It claims that the House is being "unfair" and is not treating Planned Parenthood the same as other organization’s that receive money from license plates.

The reasons for the House different treatment of the Planned Parenthood bill, patroned by Senator Louise Lucas (D-18, Portsmouth), are numerous. Of course, one reason is its pro-abortion agenda and its opposition to nearly every public policy in Virginia that relates to abortion, from our ban on partial birth infanticide to parental consent. There also is opposition because Planned Parenthood is the largest private provider of abortions in the Commonwealth. Planned Parenthood has "promised" that money raised by the plate will not fund abortion, but all we have is its word.

If those aren’t reasons enough, another explanation we have shared in the past was reinforced recently in a television interview I did on a local news broadcast regarding the license plate controversy. While interviewing the lead lobbyist for Planned Parenthood in her office, where she was arguing that Planned Parenthood is a health care organization, the camera caught an interesting sign in the background. Please watch the following brief video clip from that interview:

The camera doesn't blink on partisan Planned Parenthood.

Clearly, as I said in the interview, Planned Parenthood is a blatantly partisan political group masquerading as a health care organization. If the video isn’t enough, you can go to its  Web site and blog and see its endorsements of political candidates, nearly all of which are from one particular political party. Regardless of its claims to be all about women’s health, it really is about winning elections and making money — much of it off of the taxpayer. Isn’t it interesting that the candidates it supports are advocates of taxpayer funding of its organization.

In the next few days, the Senate will reject the amendment, reverting the money from the license plates back to Planned Parenthood. The House is likely to insist on the change, forcing the bills into a conference committee for a "compromise" to be worked out. At the same time, the budget conference committee will be debating the budget amendment that prohibits taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood. It is simply unacceptable that taxpayers continue to be forced to fund a partisan organization that does not support the laws of Virginia.

The evidence is abundant. It is time to put a stop to this funding.

Dr. Bob Holsworth Interview, Part 1

Below is the first part of a two part interview with nationally known political scientist Dr. Bob Holsworth, a regular commentator on Virginia and national politics. His articles and commentary can be read in publications and on the Internet, and heard on television and radio. He is a frequent speaker to numerous organizations, heads a consultancy, and is the editor of the widely read blog, Virginia Tomorrow. Today, we talk about the current session of the General Assembly and touch on national politics. FamilyFoundationBlog.com: Dr. Holsworth, it's a great honor to have you answer some questions on our blog about the General Assembly and Virginia politics in general. So, thank you very much for participating in this interview. We greatly appreciate your valuable time and look forward to your insights and are big fans of your blog, Virginia Tomorrow. Are you ready for some questions?

Dr. Bob Holsworth: Thanks very much for the opportunity to be on your site.

FamilyFoundationBlog: Has anything surprised you about this session of the General Assembly? Has the Republican sweep and increased House of Delegates majority created a visible difference or is it too early to tell (i.e., waiting for the budget)?

Dr. Holsworth: Certainly, the Republican sweep in the House has made it even easier for the GOP to control the legislative outcomes in that chamber. But the Democratic control of the Senate can still pose substantial hurdles for the Governor and the House GOP. I was surprised that five Democrats in the Senate supported the Health Care Freedom legislation, symbolically repudiating former Governor Kaine and President Obama. All of these Democrats are in districts where the GOP could field competitive challengers and this tells you just how concerned Democrats have become about the impact of the national mood here in Virginia. At the same time, Senate Dems have summarily dismissed part of the McDonnell agenda such as dedicating royalties for off-shore drilling to transportation and changing the budget cycle. What will happen with the overall budget is still up in the air as Senate Dems actually disagree if they should present a budget that includes some of the tax increases in (former) Governor Kaine's recommended document or acknowledge the political reality that there will be no major tax increases and present a budget accordingly, even if it inconsistent with what they would really want to propose.

FamilyFoundationBlog: Governor Bob McDonnell ran on a jobs-creation platform and de-emphasized social issues. But social issues do play a role in the budget. Do you think he will go so far as to de-fund Planned Parenthood?

Dr. Holsworth: I think that you have phrased the question well. Some folks have said that McDonnell ran as a "moderate." My sense is that he ran as an economic conservative and gave less priority in the campaign to his social conservatism. I fully expect that McDonnell will sign almost all bills with a "social conservative" orientation that emerge from the legislative process. What's not entirely clear is how far his own proposals will move in this direction. He obviously made a symbolic change when he removed sexual orientation from the non-discrimination executive order with respect to state government workers. The question of whether he'll propose a budget amendment to de-fund panned parenthood will be seen by many of his supporters as a test of whether he will implement the values of social conservatism in the budget. If he does, there will be a substantial fight in the Senate and the media will surely portray it as a switch from the "moderation" of the campaign. If he doesn't, he'll disappoint a segment of his core supporters.

FamilyFoundationBlog: If Governor McDonnell proposes a host of "fees" instead of taxes to close the budget gap, how will that affect his support on the right? creation

Dr. Holsworth: If McDonnell is perceived as simply playing semantics with taxes, it will harm him not only with the right, but with many independents as well. He was very clear during the election about his belief that revenue increases should primarily come from economic growth and I would be very surprised if he has a post-election conversion to a different point of view, especially in this political environment.

FamilyFoundationBlog: Governor McDonnell is getting a lot of positive attention right now — giving the GOP response to the State of the Union, doing several national interviews, even one for Newt Gingrich's newsletter. Does he runs the risk of raising his own expectations?

Dr. Holsworth: I think of the smartest moves the new Governor made was to cancel his national interviews the day after his SOTU response. Virginians have made it clear that his first priority as Governor should be the Commonwealth and, in the long run, McDonnell's national stature will be most enhanced by having a strong approval rating in-state.

FamilyFoundationBlog: What chances do you give of real reforms this or next year in areas of budgeting and in recalculating SOQ spending?

Dr. Holsworth: The Senate has already rejected a key McDonnell proposal on changing the two year budget cycle. Recalculating SOQ spending has been an issue that many House Republicans have pointed to over the last few years as a reform necessary to rein in future budget increases. We've seen some willingness from both parties to look at items such as staffing ratios regarding non-instructional personnel. If there ever would be a time where the entire SOQ calculation would be readjusted, it would be in the kind of fiscal environment we have now. But polls show that schools remain extremely high on the public's priority list. In aggregate, school groups (teachers, superintendents, school boards, and principals) are extraordinarily well organized and very politically effective. Moreover, Virginia schools overall seem to perform extremely well — just this week, we ranked third in the nation in AP testing. I believe that the effort for major permanent structural changes in school funding will have substantial hurdles to overcome.

FamilyFoundationBlog: What are your thoughts on former Governor Doug Wilder calling for Tim Kaine's removal as Democrat National Committee chairman?

Dr. Holsworth: Former Governor Wilder noted that he had supported Tim Kaine for Vice-President, but did not feel that the DNC Chair was the best fit for his talents and skills. My guess is that there are a number of Democratic activists who are more comfortable with the sharp edges of a Howard Dean than the more cerebral approach to the position of Tim Kaine. The proof, of course, will be in the November pudding. Kaine will succeed if Democrats do far better than expected. But if November is a Democratic debacle, Kaine will be fingered for part of the blame.

Be sure to check back with us tomorrow afternoon for part two of our interview with Dr. Bob Holsworth as we look at next year's Congressional elections in Virginia, Senator Jim Webb's prospects in 2012, and the Tea Party movement.

Abortion Center Licensure Bill Passes House Of Delegates With Huge Bi-Partisan Majority!

Today, the House of Delegates passed by a vote of 72-25 HB 393, patroned by Delegate Matt Lohr (R-26, Harrisonburg), a bill that would put unregulated abortion centers (see LiveActionBlog) under three simple regulations: licensure, an annual inspection and to have life saving equipment on premises, such as defibrillators. In fact, the General Assembly Building has three such devices. In the floor debate on the bill’s second read yesterday, when bills in the House are debated, opposition came from one of the General Assembly’s biggest pro-abortion advocates, Delegate David Englin (D-45, Alexandria). He tried to make the case that unregulated abortion centers are regulated. But Delegate Lohr correctly replied that, if so, then the simple requirements in the bill would not be cause for concern to the abortion centers. Delegate Englin then tried to paint a picture of hypocrisy by stating that doctors’ offices of various specialties are not regulated by the state. However, as Delegate Lohr responded, specific boards govern each medical specialty. But there are no boards that institute standards for abortionists.

The bipartisan vote — 11 of the 36 voting Democrats voted yes — was one of the largest margins in recent history. The bill now goes to the Senate where it most likely will be referred to the Education and Health Committee. Although pro-life bills typically meet a horrendous fate there, we will continue to fight for — and ask your help in those battles — on just bills, such HB 393, and continue to spotlight the lawmakers who prove to be grossly out of step with mainstream Virginia.

No Change In State Senate?

Rumors have been swirling since Election night that Governor-elect Bob McDonnell was seeking to entice a Senate Democrat to take an appointment in his administration, opening an opportunity for a Republican perhaps winning the resulting open Senate seat, thus ending Democrat control of the Senate, making that chamber 20-20. That would lead to power sharing, new committee make up and an entirely new political dynamic in Richmond. Of course, adding to the intrigue are two state Senate special elections that will not take place until January 12 — the 37th district seat that Attorney General-elect Ken Cuccinelli will vacate and the 8th district, where newly elected Virginia Beach sheriff Ken Stolle will leave his seat.

At his press conference today announcing several new cabinet secretaries, the Governor-elect stated that he would complete his appointment of cabinet secretaries the first week of January. If that's the case, then the appointments will be done prior to the January 12 special elections.

It would be very risky for the Governor to appoint a Democrat to his cabinet hoping to win the seat, and then potentially losing either the 8th or the 37th, leaving McDonnell and the Republicans right where they started. Risky, but not impossible of course.

So, does the one line Governor-elect McDonnell dropped today end the possibility of a change in the Senate? Or are there other administration opportunities that could be available? Just one of the more intriguing questions revolving around the new administration.

Stay tuned.

Lt. Governor Bolling Writes Senators Webb, Warner Concerning Their Votes On Health Care Bill

Below is the text of a news release issued today from the office of Lt. Governor Bill Bolling concerning the votes by Senators Warner (contact here) and Webb (contact here) in favor of a procedural motion that will allow the Senate health care bill to proceed to a final up or down vote, where it is all but assured of passing. The text of the letter referenced in the news release is posted here.

BOLLING CALLS ON WARNER AND WEBB TO VOTE AGAINST FEDERAL HEALTHCARE LEGISLATION

RICHMOND – Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling today sent a strongly worded letter to Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner expressing outrage over special concessions given to certain states to obtain support for federal healthcare legislation from their Senators and asking them to oppose this legislation, which Bolling called "misguided."

"As you know, one of our major concerns with this legislation is the potential impact it could have on the cost of Medicaid for Virginia’s state government," wrote Bolling. "Many reports have suggested that this legislation could result in much higher Medicaid costs for state governments across the nation, costs that state governments simply cannot bear."

In his letter, Bolling cited reports from this past weekend that the Senate’s Democratic leadership had made concessions to Senator Ben Nelson that would hold his home state of Nebraska harmless for any additional Medicaid costs that might come about as a result of the enrollment of new Medicaid recipients after 2017, while all 49 other states would be required to pay a portion of the increased costs. This reportedly would save Nebraska $45M per year, while passing these costs on to other states.

Additionally, similar "sweet heart deals" were reportedly made to Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and other Senators to obtain their support for the healthcare bill, while the citizens of Virginia and other states were not afford the same benefits.

"I am outraged by reports that surfaced this weekend regarding concessions that were made to Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson to secure his vote in support of this legislation," stated Bolling. "If these reports are accurate, this type of quid pro quo is unacceptable, and you and your colleagues should object strongly to the practice, which I have no doubt the American people will find offensive as well."

"If the Senate’s leadership is so desperate to obtain votes to secure the passage of this legislation that they would make these types of concessions to these Senators, I would ask that you demand that the same concessions be extended to Virginia, and for that matter, to every other state in the nation," continued Bolling.

In addition to the outrageous "pay off" tactics employed by Senate Democratic Leadership, Bolling encouraged Senators Webb and Warner to vote against the substance of the legislation, citing concerns that it will result in increased healthcare costs, increased insurance premiums, increased taxes on family and businesses and fewer options for individual patients.

Student Pages Needed For General Assembly Session

The Family Foundation is currently in search of student pages who can assist our legislative team in our advocacy work for the upcoming General Assembly session. The unpaid positions offer high school students, including home schoolers, a valuable opportunity to experience the activities of a General Assembly session firsthand. Family Foundation General Assembly pages are responsible for the efficient maintenance of information within The Family Foundation’s General Assembly Operations Room and information between The Family Foundation and the members of the General Assembly. Pages assist Family Foundation legislative staff in the accomplishment of their daily tasks and routine administrative responsibilities.

There will be opportunities to observe legislative committee meetings, floor sessions of the House of Delegates and Senate, and much more. It is a great opportunity to see firsthand the inside story of politics and lawmaking in Virginia.

The 2010 General Assembly session begins Wednesday, January 13, and runs for 60 days. Pages are encouraged to work at least two half days a week, preferably mornings. We are in particular need for pages who can work Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays.

Students (or their parents) interested in serving as Family Foundation General Assembly pages should contact Jessica Tseng at 804-343-0010 or e-mail her at Jessica@familyfoundation.org.

Virginia News Stand: November 10, 2009

Annotations & Elucidations Houck Not Going Anywhere

The hot rumor going around was that Senator Edd Houck (D-17, Spottsylvania) would accept a job in the new McDonnell administration, thus opening up a potential re-take of the Senate by Republicans by winning that seat in a special election. Democrats hold a one seat majority in the chamber, but a tie would flip it back to the GOP because of the re-election of Lt. Governor Bill Bolling. However, Senator Houck has dampened that speculation in today's Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.

In other news, Senator Robert Hurt (R-19, Chatham) has hired Chris LaCivita as his consultant in the crowded 5th Congressional District Republican nomination campaign. LaCivita, formerly a consultant to former Governor George Allen, is most noted for running the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry, and is fresh off Attorney General-elect Ken Cuccinelli's landslide victory. Those who hire LaCivita mean to win. Elsewhere, a Democrat big gun is brought in for the recount in the 21st House of Delegates district election (where Republican Ron Villanueva defeated incumbent Democrat Bobby Mathieson); the effect of the Liberty University student vote is looked at in the 23rd district campaign (where Republican Scott Garrett defeated incumbent Democrat Shannon Valentine); and Public Opinion Strategies offers insights into the Obama affect in the Virginia campaign. But mainly, we're happy to bring back editorial comics to the News Stand.  

News:

Houck: No plan to leave (Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star)

McDonnell disagrees with study on trimming tax breaks (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Falwell says he's 'surprised' by election results (Lynchburg News & Advance)

Counting in disputed 21st District race to resume at noon (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

Al Gore's Attorney helps Mathieson (BearingDrift.com)

Hurt signs up LaCivita (Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog)

Population, inflation fuel 10-year budget growth in Va. (Washington Post)

Analysis:

Don't Tell Anyone, But Obama Hurt Deeds in Virginia (Public Opinion Strategies/TQIA Blog)

Commentary:

Are Republicans too giddy? (Julian E. Zelizer/CNN.com)

Editorial Comics:

"Wahtchya doing?" (Eric Allie/Townhall.com)

"DrainO" (Nate Beeler/Townhall.com)

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Washington Post's Ponnuru: "Desperate Deeds"

We don't have a News Stand for you today, but if you take a look yesterday's, you will see a link to a post entitled "Desperate Deeds" from Right Matters, a blog at the Washington Post, by conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru (here). He concisely explains in six points why Democrat Creigh Deeds' sudden, politically  eccentric attack on Republican Bob McDonnell's pro-life positions won't work. Here it is:

Democrat Creigh Deeds, down in the polls in the race for governor of Virginia, has decided to campaign against Republican Robert McDonnell for having spent too much time during his career trying to restrict abortion. Here are five reasons why this tactic is unlikely to work:

1) Most people don't enjoy discussions of abortion, and react negatively when people bring it up. The people who vote on the issue already know where the candidates stand and aren't going to be swayed by ads.

2) Virginia isn't a strongly pro-choice state. Its current governor, after all, is a nominally pro-life Democrat.

3) A lot of voters know that governors can't ban abortion — and that Democrats have the White House, the House, and the Senate, and have just made an appointment to the Supreme Court.

4) Voters have other things on their minds, such as the economy, and will find it odd for a gubernatorial candidate to be talking about something else.

5) This campaign tactic puts Deeds in an impossible position. He has to persuade the voters that the candidate who isn't talking a lot about abortion is the one who is dangerously obsessed with the issue. Good luck with that.

So what do you think? Is Deeds making a big mistake?

Update: I should have added another one. 6) McDonnell is on the right side of public opinion on the specific legislative issues Deeds is pointing at, such as a ban on late-term abortion and a requirement for parental consent.

One can imagine the Deeds team on a conference call last week, depressed by the poll numbers, frantically searching for in issue with traction. Finding none, someone yells, "I've got it! Abortion!" "Right," the others would say, "the abortion card! Let's play it!" But it's no winning hand, as documented here.

It's funny: Liberals always talk about conservatives "taking us back to bad times." But this demagoguery is the real time warp.

Family Foundation Action Releases General Assembly Report Card

Family Foundation Action today officialy released its 2008-09 General Assembly Report Card. A Capitol Square news conference is underway.  Below is the official news release from the orgnization:

FAMILY FOUNDATION ACTION RELEASES GENERAL ASSEMBLY REPORT CARD

RICHMOND — The Family Foundation Action today released the tenth edition of its non-partisan General Assembly Report Card. The educational document, released at a capitol press conference, informs citizens on key votes taken by the General Assembly during the 2008 and 2009 sessions. 

"In the House alone two-thirds of the members voted in favor of The Family Foundation's agenda more than half the time, indicating a broad based, bipartisan support for The Family Foundation's commonsense proposals," said Victoria Cobb, president of The Family Foundation Action. "It is our hope that the Report Card, along with Voter Guides that will be distributed in the fall, will motivate citizens to vote, and help them make informed choices when they go to the voting booth." 

The mission of The Family Foundation Action is to protect families and promote responsible citizenship by giving Virginians the tools they need to hold their elected officials accountable. The Family Foundation Action is not a PAC and cannot endorse candidates. This organization will also be producing and distributing voter guides for Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General and select House races in the fall. The Family Foundation Action plans to distribute 100,000 Report Cards throughout Virginia in the coming months, double the number from the 2007 distribution. 

As with each Report Card distributed over the years, hundreds of votes taken by legislature during the past two years were reviewed. The first page of the report card explains the criteria used in determining which votes to include. Non-partisan and broad-based, the Report Card seeks not to benefit one party or one candidate over another, but to arm voting Virginians with the information they need to make an informed choice when they go to the ballot box.

This year's Report Card has seven more "100 percenters" in the House than the last edition, bringing the total to 42. There are four in the state Senate, twice the number from 2007. In addition, there are no "Zeros" on this Report Card in either the House or the Senate.

"Demand for the Report Card continues to increase with each release," added Cobb. "We distributed 50,000 copies of the last edition, not including those that were downloaded from the Action Website. We hope to distribute twice that number with this edition to ensure that more Virginians know exactly where their elected officials stand on important values issues."

Copies of the Report Card are available by contacting The Family Foundation Action at 804-343-0010 or at www.tffaction.org.

 

Update: Governor's Substitute Transparency Bill Accepted

Earlier today, during the General Assembly's veto session, the House and Senate concurred unanimously to accept Governor Tim Kaine's substitute version of HB 2285, a state spending transparency bill, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-25, Amherst). This substitute, at first look, and based on conversations with some legislators and staffers, appears to be even stronger than SB 936, patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), and signed last month by Governor Kaine. The language of the bills was identical when they reached his desk.  Although neither bill received one dissenting vote in several sub-committee, committee and floor votes in both chambers, and now today's veto session — after each got unceremoniously dumped last year in committee (Senate) and sub-committee (House) — it wasn't as easy as it sounds getting them passed and signed into law. Each had to deal with the dreaded fiscal impact statement, which many times attributes bogus costs to bills as an unassailable hurdle in the money committees, often to thwart reforms. In this case, each bill had duty in front on the money committees and HB 2285 even had to go to the Senate Rules Committee.

In essence, we started with two great bills last year and again this year, that changed form, but not function, though perhaps not as comprehensive as we might have liked after several amendments, and ultimately got something more than what we thought after the regular session ended. Not bad. What a difference an election year makes.

Now a huge window has opened up on state spending, with a massive spotlight to boot. Soon, citizens — be they media, grassroots activists, policy wonks or even (for Heaven's sake) bloggers — will be able to closely examine exactly how Virginia government spends the hard-earned tax money we send it, and with which vendors it contracts for services, as well as other open government features. It simply is not enough to say a department spends this much money; we need to know down to the line how much, on what and with whom. That, in turn, will let us know if the purpose was worthy or wasteful, duplicative or duplicitous. You get the picture.

Despite what would seem broad interest in government spending transparency, many self-proclaimed "open government" groups were noticeably absent form the debate. The  Mainstream Media, for example, which touts its annual "Sunshine Week" each March, was nowhere to be found. No doubt, however, in years to come, it will, as we all should, tout this new found access to the otherwise indecipherable bureaucratic nuances of state government.

BREAKING NEWS: Governor Amends Transparency Bill!

I just received an update from the Legislative Information System that Governor Tim Kaine has made recommendations to HB 2285, the House version of the spending transparency bill. It is patroned by Delegate Ben Cline. However, the system has not yet posted what those amendments are. It's hard to believe they are too substantive given the unanimous approval it and the Senate version (SB 936, patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli) received. It also goes to reason that whatever these amendments are, the governor will apply them also to SB 936. We will update you when we find out.

Virginia News Stand: March 10, 2009

Topping the news today is Delegate Clark Hogan's (R-60, South Boston) decision not to seek re-election. He follows another young House Republican member, Delegate Bill Fralin (R-17, Roanoke), in surprising observers with the such an announcement. Not only that, but Senator Ken Stolle (R-8, Virginia Beach) may leave the Senate — if he runs for and gets elected Virginia Beach Sheriff. Interesting, as ever. Hogan not running for re-election, plans to focus on business (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Stolle considers run for Virginia Beach sheriff (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

Va. Optimistic On Revenue (Harrisonburg Daily News-Record)

Area now a battleground for governor (The Daily Press)

Democrats Target McDonnell As Va. Smoking Ban Is Signed (Washington Post

Obama's Order on Stem Cells Leaves Key Questions to NIH (Washington Post)

Transparency Bills Breeze Through Senate And House; Not So Fast

The good news? The Senate today accepted Ken Cuccinelli's (R-37, Fairfax) floor amendment to conform HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), to his SB 936 by a unanimous vote. The House, meanwhile, unanimously approved SB 936. Sounds all so cut-and-dried, let's-send-it-to- the-third-floorish, right? That'd be too easy.

Here's what happened late this morning. As you will recall from yesterday, Senator Walter Stosch (R-12, Henrico) raised concerns that language in the floor substitute might allow for Social Security numbers to be put online. The bill was passed by for the day for the day in order to work that out. However, as the Senate discovered today, federal law safeguards such a happenstance and all were prepped to go forward.

Then stepped up Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg). Exactly what might he want? It seems he had a little bill that would bring some much needed reform to the workings of the two chambers (SB 1401). It would require that anything budget conferees stuck in their final budget report —which the two chambers must vote up or down — that was a nonstate appropriation, an item not included in either chamber's budget, or an item that represents legislation that failed during session, would have to be announced as such in letters to all 140 members by the chairmen of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees.

The bill sliced right through the Senate only to be left to die in House Appropriations. So, here was an opportunity to revive it and he jumped at it. Unfortunately, his original bill had a dreaded "fiscal impact" statement attached — then said the cost was "indeterminable." (Odd, though, that no budget amendment was necessary. Besides, what's the cost of writing a letter and making 140 copies?). Still, just having it there scares some lawmakers. And us. (Would it have to go before a bill-killing re-referal to Appropriations?)

Great stuff, actually, this amendment. All about transparency. But legislative transparency. Not spending transparency. One is actual facts about state spending. One is about GA procedures. Not exactly germane. Senator Norment admitted as much on the floor, saying he thinks the House may reject his amendment on those grounds. But no one asked the chamber's presiding officer, Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, for a ruling (he cannot make one unilatterally). So the amendment proceeded to a vote and accepted by the body.

Here's where it all stands: Instead of the two bills conformed exactly to each other (which we figured wouldn't happen anyway only because we thought at the outset the Senate would leave HB 2285 alone) and avoiding a conference committee, HB 2285 goes back to the House since the Senate changed it. It must either accept or reject the Senate amendments. Either way, it will be different than SB 936: If it rejects the amendments, it is slimmer than SB 936; if it accepts them, it is larger. Meanwhile, the Senate must accept or reject SB 936, since it was tweaked in the House to meet Appropriations Committee concerns. Since the changes were the patron's, it  won't be a problem. 

Many variables from this last minute twist of the tale: Now that Senator Norment is part author on HB 2285, will he be on the conference committee? If so, how might that affect the dynamics? If the House insists on its version of HB 2285, will it give the Senate an excuse to scuttle it in conference? Or will the meat of the bill survive if Senate conferees insist on the slimmer HB 2285 as a slap? Is this all paranoia? We hope so, but just covering all bases.

To repeat, never have bills that still have not received a single dissenting vote gone through so much tortuous twisting. That said, an important reform still is within reach. Updates tomorrow.