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By Mark D. Hughes
«RM75»«FC»COL16.MDH - Statecraft and The Art of the Deal
After a weeklong mid-session break plus an extra day for Easter, Missouri lawmakers returned to the Capitol facing a hard May 13 session deadline to act on most major legislative proposals filed this session.
If history is any indicator their success will depend not just on their ability to command, but also to succeed in the art of the deal.
Because of the size of the House of Representatives, the speaker must have the ability to force a vote on bills; otherwise, a tiny minority of representatives could stall the entire process.
Down the marble in the Senate, the number of lawmakers is smaller and the process is much different. There, for decades, a famous quote from Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the U.S. Manual of Senate Procedure, has been paraphrased "One senator with conviction makes a majority."
Much of the legislative activity in the first half of sessions takes place in committees, where citizens and lobbyists can share their support for or opposition to proposed bills. The second half of the sessions are devoted more to floor debate involving the full House or Senate. Most legislation is passed in the final weeks of the session -- but the legislative logjam that results brings peril for bills that get blocked by measures ahead of them on the calendar.
And it is here that the key to successful sessions is found: the art of the deal.
This is perhaps best illustrated in past sessions where lawmakers failed in the art of the deal.
In 1988, voters approved an amendment to the Constitution of Missouri lawmakers placed on the ballot that equalized the lengths of annual legislative sessions and required legislative approval of the state budget one week before the end of the regular legislative session.
In 1997, lawmakers violated the constitutional amendment they themselves had crafted by failing to pass the budget within the required time. While the issue of contention was funding for planned parenthood, the ability of opponents to use that issue to block approval of the budget -- and to embarrass the legislature by violating the state's highest law -- rested squarely on the failure of leaders in the art of the deal.
One opponent involved in the bipartisan effort later confided that there wasn't a single bill left on the calendar that session that they had to have. All they had to do was talk the other bills to death.
The budget was later passed in a special session.
Just a few years later, lawmakers set a new low for the number of bills passed during a session. I seem to recall something like 75 bills -- instead of the normal several hundred -- made it out of the Senate. Again, the cause was the failure in the art of the deal.
The Republican leader at the time shared with me his disbelief at the opportunity the majority Democrat leadership provided.
"There wasn't a single bill on the calendar that our caucus supported. Not one. All we had to do was to debate bill after bill until they laid them over."
In both of the failures above, the majority leadership simply failed to allow a key bill or two the other caucus needed to move up the calendar -- the list of bills for debate. Opponents simply can't debate the bills ahead of them without killing their own measures.
Both of these past instances of failure occurred during the final weeks of the session.
This year in the Senate, the majority used the nuclear option of cutting off debate in the first half of the session.
This leaves a lot of angry senators to see if their conviction can constitute -- or at least vex -- a majority. And it leaves about seven weeks and calendars with hundreds and hundreds of bills that would have to be carefully managed if the Senate leadership in this session is to succeed in the art of a deal -- making that art a difficult deal this year, indeed. .
[After a career in journalism, Mark Hughes became a top, non-partisan policy analyst for Missouri government including the state Senate, state Treasurer's Office and the utility-regulating PSC. He has been an observer and analyst of state government since the administration of Gov. Kit Bond.]
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