State budget plans in ‘fuzzy zone’
Results in Massachusetts means state lawmakers can’t rely on federal action
OLYMPIA – Washington Republicans wasted little time trying to draw connections between a Democratic Senate loss in Massachusetts and political prospects in the Evergreen State.
Washington Democrats conceded that the loss of a supermajority in the U.S. Senate complicates plans in the Legislature. They can’t expect Congress to adopt health care reform or a stimulus package before they have to patch a $2.6 billion budget hole and leave town.
State GOP Chairman Luke Esser called Scott Brown’s election to the seat previously held by Democrat Edward Kennedy “a national election with a national reason for celebration for Republicans.” Candidates will follow Brown’s strategy of reaching out to independents and Democrats unhappy with federal health care reform, he said.
Washington state has a U.S. Senate race this November with five announced Republican candidates hoping to take out three-term incumbent Patty Murray, but none is a household name. Although many people question whether any Republican can defeat Murray, Esser said people said that about a Republican winning Kennedy’s seat just a few months ago.
The party hasn’t chosen to back a particular candidate, as it did in some previous statewide elections, Esser said: “That’s the old paradigm. In the current atmosphere, it’s important to let the grassroots know it’s not going to be a top-down, hierarchical decision.”
In the U.S. Senate, the Democrats’ loss of a filibuster-proof supermajority throws contentious issues like health care reform into doubt. Legislators had been advised to draft state health care legislation with an eye to what the federal government would do and new money it might provide.
“We’ll continue that work, but we have greater uncertainty about what may happen,” Rep. John Driscoll, D-Spokane, said. “We ought to keep doing what we’re doing, but we’re in a real fuzzy zone.”
State Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane said a complete health care reform package may not pass before the Legislature adjourns on March 11, but a separate bill that adjusts federal Medicare funding may pass because it has support from governors of both parties.
“We haven’t counted on it yet. Regardless of what happens, we’re going to try to avoid any cuts to the basic health plan,” Brown said.
Brown said she hasn’t analyzed the Massachusetts election yet, but thinks it shows the strength of independent voters, and “independent voters are a big deal in Washington state.”