Fizzlebuster

What should we call a filibuster that demands big budget cuts, in which participants bluster about talking until they get their way and then settle for a relative pittance, or less?

The FF, the Filibustering Four, are the same senators who tied up the unemployment bill for a month, contending the state needed to reject federal money to ay extended benefits as a way to send a message to congress to quit overspending. They were induced to sit down when Senate leader Rob Mayer and floor leader Tom Dempsey promised the FF Leader he could look for $250 million in cuts to a re-appropriations bill the senate would consider later.

That bill came to the senate floor Tuesday afternoon at 4:11 p.m.

FF leader Jim Lembke of St. Louis had discovered by then that finding $250 million that had not already been committed and contracted for was not possible. He was dealing with a moving target. So the target had shrunk from $250 million to $37 million–in addition to some money that had been removed by the appropriations committee before the bill ever got to the senate for debate.

Although Mayer and Dempsey had cut the deal they apparently had not involved the other Republican members of the senate other than Lembke and his allies, Senators Schaaf, Nieves, and Kraus. One of the people they had not brought on board was appropriations chairman Kurt Schaefer of Columbia who had made it clear that he was not part of the deal and would not be part of the deal.

So off we went on a well-managed and well-coordinated verbal wander in the wilderness.

Talk talk talk talk. They read some books that were not particularly interesting and did not read them particularly well—observers could not figure out for the life of them what the heck Nieves thought he was doing when he was reading but he seemed to enjoy it and if you can’t enjoy your own filibuster you’re really a sad case. Kraus launched into a lengthy discourse about flying Chinook helicopters, which he did in Iraq, and even gave listeners great details into the operations of the APU. Shaaf did some reading, too, and got into a brief skirmish with Schaefer triggered when Schaaf opined that $37 million dollars set aside for broadband expansion into un-served parts of the state and school improvements could be cut and nobody would really notice.

And so it went.

Early on, Lembke proclaimed, “We’re not going to sit down until we get, you know, the commitment that was made to us.”

And Nieves was even more inflated: “We are going to be here a very, very, very, very long, long time and there is a good chance that house Bill 18 will never come up for a vote.”

That kind of talk intimidated no one. From the start they knew the “commitment that was made to us” was not possible. And as far as not having a vote? Nieves might really have believed that hyperbolic statement, but we could probably count those who agreed with him on one hand with fingers left over.

Later, during the early morning hours of Wednesday, Lembke told one of his colleagues that one of the best pices of his advice he ever got was: Never fall in love with one of your own bills. Hmmmmmm…..

Wednesday morning, 2:30 a.m. The Republican caucus calls a time out for a little discussion. The discussion lasts more than an hour and a half and when the FF comes back, the tone of the filibuster is different. Something has happened in that caucus. The FF participants seem to be working toward a way to spin a victory out of this long night.

5:25 a.m. The sky is starting to brighten in the east. Republicans call another time out for another brief caucus. Time to review the deal that’s been worked out.

5:50 a.m. Back in session. Lembke withdraws his amendment that has provided the overnight entertainment. Senator Brad lager introduces a new one. It cuts about $14.5 million from the bill, almost all of it in un-contracted weatherization program funds. It’s adopted. The bill quickly passes. Floor leader Tom Dempsey announces he’s cancelling the morning session and the senate won’t come back until 3 p.m. But a meeting scheduled for 8;30 of the gubernatorial appointments committee will be held as scheduled. There are groans.

Lager and Mayer meet with reporters after the 6 a.m. adjournment. Mayer says the Republican caucus had become “disenchanted” with the FF and a final decision was made in the caucus not to go beyond $14.5 million. And here’s the kicker. If the state contracts for the spending of that money before the end of the fiscal year, there’s no $14.5 million to be cut.

So much for “the commitment that was made to us.” So much for the “good chance that House Bill 18 will never come up for a vote.” So much for sending a message to Washington that non-FF members of both parties had told Lembke and friends was a useless venture.

Fourteen million dollars for fourteen hours of the lives that senators, reporters, staff members, and others who endured all of this will never see again. Their colleagues are “disenchanted” with the FF. And if the state contracts for weatherization programs using those funds before June 30th, the FF’s fourteen hours will have been worth… ?

The answer to the question at the start of this observation: Fizzlebuster.

 

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