SADOW: The Republican Special-Session Advocates Are Making A Mistake

Emitting a yawp for “legislative independence” at the expense of losing personal and Legislative power? For a handful of Louisiana Republican members of the House of Representatives, it’s a gamble they take hoping to avoid this consequence.

As noted previously, an effort for the Legislature to call itself into special session to pursue an agenda injurious to efficient policy implementation would turn the body into little more than the equivalent of the Transportation Security Administration for Louisiana on budget implementation, with the chambers frisking executive decisions to find any evidence of policies that could right-size state government and/or impede their abilities to feed statewide or constituency-based special interests at taxpayer expense that assist in their reelections, and then to try to eliminate any offensive implementation decisions that threaten their reelections and/or trouble their faiths in big government. The first of four steps, getting a chamber, the House, to sign a petition to put the matter to a vote, has been achieved.

The author of the effort, state Rep. Dee Richard, enthusiastically waxes that should it come to pass the session could be used to reverse recent cost-cutting reformations made to state government. Of course, nothing of the sort will happen, and not just because the math does not add up to produce enough votes to override a veto of any of the reforms by their executor Gov. Bobby Jindal, but also because by the time the session concludes, a large share of the implementation will have become an accomplished fate.

Richard cites as one thing to undo the closing of the psychiatric care Southeast Louisiana Hospital. But by December it will not serve in that capacity; it might even be operating at least in parts under private management. He also brings up the shuttering of the Paul Phelps Correctional Center. But in a matter of days it will be empty of prisoners. And of plans to downsize dramatically many charity hospitals in the state? The Department of Health and Hospitals already is putting deals in place to accomplish that which would be difficult to unwind.

So if the session is seen as a way to prevent these things from happening, as opposed to a more theoretical exercise in giving the Legislature more ways to insert itself into the minutiae of policy implementation in the future, any agenda to do so will fail and look incredibly stupid because of the enormous expenses in time and dollars to backtrack. Add that to what the public will see as a waste of needed bucks on the session itself, an attempt to accomplish an entirely impractical goal, and the body’s esteem sinks even further in the peoples’ eyes.

Not that the Democrats who signed onto it care about these kinds of consequences. Reviewing the list of names, a large portion of it comprises the usual leftist cranks (here’s a sample of the typical pabulum you get from this bunch) and a few who don’t want to see the changes because they fear special interests allied with the downsized/redacted facilities will work against their reelection, or both. They don’t care because they have no chance at governing as long as they insist on promoting liberalism, so they have no power to lose, meaning they eagerly want to throw a tantrum at taxpayer expense.

But the few Republicans who signed up, all of whom have an affected institution in their areas, surely have not become addled enough by visions of grandeur and/or parochialism to not know the folly they support. They have real power both personal and related to the institution that they will lose if a session gets called. Their motivation lies deeper.

As with some of the Democrats, for them it’s all about image, and in every case but one, reelection. Signing on allows these individuals to go to the special interests in their districts annoyed by the moves and argue they tried to do something about it. And if they’re smart, they’re working behind the scenes quietly lobbying senators not to sign the petition so they can have their cake and eat it, too. Neither the public nor Jindal will be happy at them for wasting resources with a session, so they will be big losers if it comes about. But if all their assent does is produce symbolism at no cost, they emerge as winners. (And for the one term-limited GOP signatory state Rep. Brett Geymann, it’s all about burnishing credentials and trying to be taken seriously as a budget reformer, something he has yet to achieve.)

While Richard may crow about how a session could establish “independence” of the Legislature, understand any session product will bring harmful policy impacts and actually will attenuate legislative independence. As Edmund Burke cautions us, we must judge any use of power by its effects, not on the intent. Having greater liberty to insert itself into the policy implementation process is not good when it serves to produce worse policy, precisely because by its very nature the alterations proposed in the agenda will create conditions to allow parochial interests to triumph over statewide needs. The Legislature also has plenty of other existing mechanisms by which to shape executive behavior, such as through budgeting and its ability to override any gubernatorial action regarding that, without having to degrade implementation. Just because it has no guts in making policy doesn’t give it the license to impact adversely implementation of policy.

And this becomes self-defeating because the Legislature will not succeed in passing anything that produces greater “independence” but instead will attenuate legislative independence through the loss of legitimacy that results by its failure to produce anything of value in a special session. Thus, GOP signers took a dangerous gamble to come on board the effort, and may have let themselves become useful idiots to enable Democrats to stage a therapy session.

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