NH Week in Review for April 9: GOP squabble scuttles House vote on budget

Apr 09, 2017

“A house divided cannot stand against itself,” Abraham Lincoln said in 1858. Nor, apparently, can it approve a state budget when Republicans - the party of Lincoln - can’t agree in the New Hampshire House on the details of a two-year revenue and spending plan for the Granite State.

Republicans, who hold the majority in both the New Hampshire House and Senate, could not reach consensus on the $11.9 billion budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 that had been recommended by the House Finance Committee.

Conservative Republicans who are part of the so-called Freedom Caucus wanted even more of a reduction than the $200 million that was cut from the original $2.1 billion offered by Republican Gov. Christopher Sununu.

It was flummoxing for House Speaker Shawn Jasper. Democrats didn’t like the committee’s budget because it stripped away money that Sununu had recommended for such programs as full-day kindergarten. And conservative Republicans in his own caucus didn’t like the budget because they felt the cuts in state spending didn’t go far enough.

That left the budget -- contained in HB 1 -- without enough votes to pass when it came up for consideration, first on Wednesday then on Thursday. It is the first time in memory that the House failed to pass a state budget. See a Union Leader story here.

It had the same political dynamic we saw in Washington, D.C., where House Speaker Paul Ryan canceled the vote last month to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act because Democrats and conservative Republicans opposed it for ideologically different reasons -- Democrats felt the replacement didn’t go far enough and conservatives felt it went too far.

Without House action, that leaves the bulk of the work on crafting a budget to the state Senate, also controlled by the GOP. The new biennium budget is due to start on July 1.

It also left a lot of finger pointing among Republicans, with Jasper accusing the Freedom Caucus conservatives of being “disconnected” and conservatives taking shots at Jasper’s leadership. Then there is the role of former House Speaker William O’Brien at play. O’Brien, who lost the speakership to Jasper in the 2015-2016 session and didn’t run for re-election last year, led two meetings of conservative Republicans before the vote on the budget. He encouraged the Freedom Caucus to fight the budget. See a Concord Monitor story here.

For his part, Sununu said he is optimistic about the budget process and downplayed the disagreement among Republicans. See an NHPR story here.

In Washington, D.C.

Democratic U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, as they said they would, voted against the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. It took the so-called “nuclear option” to get it done.

To advance a Supreme Court confirmation vote, Senate rules had stipulated the need for 61 votes. But Democratic opposition to Gorsuch meant the 61-vote threshold wouldn’t be met, which prompted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to push the button on the nuclear option and change the rules to make the threshold for Supreme Court confirmation a simple majority of 51 votes.

“It’s very disappointing that Republican leadership is changing the rules to approve his nomination and again, resorting to unprecedented tactics to shape the Supreme Court,” Shaheen said in a statement.

The decision by President Donald Trump to launch missiles against an air base in Syria was generally greeted positively by members of the New Hampshire congressional delegation. Missiles were launched in response to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons on civilians in rebel-held territory.

While generally supportive, however, New Hampshire’s senators and representatives want Trump to outline his long-term plan for Syria. See an NH1 report here.

2018 election

Campaigns for races in the 2018 election are already taking shape.

Democrat Steve Marchand of Portsmouth announced he is running again for governor. Marchand finished second in the party’s primary to nominee Colin Van Ostern, who ultimately lost the election to Sununu. Marchand is placing an emphasis on marijuana legalization. See a Seacoast Online story here.

Republican Eddie Edwards of Dover announced his intention to run for U.S. representative in the 1st Congressional District. That seat is currently held by Democrat Carol Shea-Porter. See a Foster’s Daily Democrat story here.

Also

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the state’s law banning “ballot selfies” in the voting booth. Lower courts had ruled that the ban on the selfies is a violation of free speech. Secretary of State William Gardner has been a supporter of the ban, arguing that it protects the “sanctity” of the voting booth. He said he hopes to push for other means to prevent photography inside the voting booth. See an NHPR story here.

By unanimous vote this week, the Executive Council approved Gordon MacDonald as attorney general. MacDonald succeeds Joseph Foster, who stepped down March 31 after leading the state’s justice department for four years. See a Concord Monitor story here.

The Senate passed a compromise measure that allows officials of towns and school districts that postponed their local elections due to the March 14 snowstorm to take action to ratify the results. Doubt had been cast on the validity of the elections because no law exists as guidance for postponed town elections. See a WMUR story here.

You would think that several days of on-and-off rain combined with a lot of snow over the winter have eased drought concerns through much of the state. Think again. See a Union Leader story here.

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