Robert Burns wrote about the best laid schemes of mice and men. In First Corinthians, Paul wrote of leaving childish things behind.
Whatever quote is most appropriate, the tornadoes that ripped through the eastern half of North Carolina on Saturday tended to make the political games being played in Raleigh look pretty childish.
On the same day that the devastating tornadoes rolled through the state — one of them just four blocks east of the Legislative Building — legislative Republicans sent a bill to the desk of Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue to extend unemployment benefits for 37,000 North Carolinians.
They waited until Saturday because that’s the day the payments were schedule to run out unless the state revised a benefits formula so that the feds would pick up the cost. And they waited until Saturday because they had inserted into the legislation a provision designed to prevent Perdue from vetoing a budget bill
The provision would allow legislators to walk away from a budget veto by limiting state spending to $1.4 billion less than Perdue proposes, and extending that spending limit throughout the next fiscal year.
These “continuing budget resolutions” aren’t unusual. What's unusual is inserting them into an extension of unemployment benefits and allowing the temporary spending measure to run throughout the entire fiscal year.
In the past, the stopgap spending bills have usually run two to four weeks. They haven’t been passed until it became clear that a state budget wouldn’t be in place at the July 1 start of the fiscal year.
Republican legislators acknowledged that the intent was to “set the rules of the game,” to diminish Perdue’s leverage in budget negotiations.
It didn't work. She vetoed the bill anyway. State Republican Party chair Robin Hayes said Perdue had put her bigspending priorities ahead of those 37,000 out-of-work North Carolinians.
So, she created the linkage?
As the bill was being debated in the House, the chamber’s minority leader and former speaker, Joe Hackney, said that surely Senate Republicans, and not GOP House members, cooked up the idea.
This kind of gamesmanship actually looks more like the work of Washington political consultants than that of elected state legislators, of either party or either legislative chamber. Those consultant are used to one-upping opposing campaigns. Governing, on the other hand, is mostly an alien concept.
Whoever dreamed up the idea, Republican legislative leaders probably have a question for them today: Now what?
Perdue didn’t fold. She called. The remaining options for the Republican legislative majority will likely make them look either uncaring or weak.
If the governor has politically hurt herself in the process, so what? Willingly joining in a circular firing squad isn’t the way to a long and happy life, political or otherwise.
Several of the Republican legislative leaders are competent and able. It’s time to show it.
In the wake of Saturday’s storms, in this moment of sobriety, legislative Republicans need to put away the childish reasoning and prove that they are capable of governing.