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Disingenuous Edwards speech reveals desperation

Perhaps more than the expected dosages of hypocrisy and schoolmarm sanctimony present in Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwardsaddress to the 2016 Second Extraordinary Session of the Louisiana Legislature, a hint of desperation stood out. As it should, for no doubt Edwards feels the situation slipping away from him after the results of the just-concluded regular session.

As has become typical in his communications regarding policy, Edwards in these commits the follies of which he accuses his political opponents or alleges he avoids. He claimed his budget, emerging largely intact from the regular session process, represented a breath of honest air into a process he accused in the past of being otherwise, even as he argued it cut “critical services” and thereby demanded this addendum session to gather more revenues through tax increases.

Yet a nontrivial chunk of the budget, relative to its single largest expenditure, Medicaid, he built upon questionable numbers derived from unsustainable assumptions through calculations kept from the public. And who in their right mind can call paying the tuition for below-average students to attend college, the most generous such program in the country so watered down that it acts as an entitlement rather than a driver of excellence, a “critical service?” There’s nothing honest about a budget built upon these, among other, mischaracterizations.

Additionally, he continued to peddle the fiction that to oppose his tax-and spend-first, ask-questions-later agenda represented “self-serving, hyper-partisan grandstanding” whereas agreeing with him constituted reasonable compromise and behavior. This rhetorical trick continues his efforts that complement the larger strategy of national Democrats, to frame as illegitimate any opposition to their quest to grow government size and power in order to enhance their own power and privilege.

As a result, notably absent in the speech, other than an offhand assertion that he had got the Legislature to cut $230 million in spending in the budget that now sits on his desk, was any talk of reducing the size of government as an alternative, or any recognition that in a state ranked 30th in per capita income among the states and District of Columbia that spends at the 18th highest rate means its government has grown too large. If anything, given his stubbornness in insisting on retention of outsized government and by his failure to recognize the rational, if not compelling, case against his policies, through his smug dismissal of it and unwillingness to consider the spending side of things to any significant degree, Edwards himself displays the blind partisanship.

This single-mindedness, this refusal to brook anything contrary to tax increases whether direct through stripping tax exceptions while failing to alter rates to make the overall effect revenue-neutral or indirect by taxing health insurers who then will spread these increases out among ratepayers, indicates a growing concern that he will meet defeat in these plans. Even to acknowledge the alternative of cutting spending reduces the perceived imperativeness of his desired course of action and makes it much less likely to succeed. Thus, he must double down on the same destructive path he has articulated his entire political career.

Because his opponents, only a significant minority in the Senate despite Republicans controlling the chamber but the governing majority in the House, are winning. They took a major step towards their goal of restraining the growth of government by declining to go along with his tax hikes proffered during the first special session and then consequentially sending to Edwards a budget with cuts to current operations – even as that budget exceeded this current year’s by six percent because of new and additional functions Edwards unilaterally added such as Medicaid expansion.

So if legislative majorities in the next couple of weeks garnish the budget as passed with its baked-in cuts with icing long on redirecting existing revenues and short on taking from the people new revenues, by refusing to go along with those Edwards then owns the final product. If he vetoes such supplemental appropriations, Republican leaders can tell their story about how they tried to make reductions across a number of programs to shore up spending on things considered more important such as health care and Edwards can tell his story how he would rather see what he called “critical services” cut than adjust spending of lesser importance. Hint: he doesn’t win that argument, especially with a public that markedly prefers less spending over tax increases.

And it’s all in the hands of the House, repository of opposition to Edwards’ ideological program, because any tax increases must originate there. As long as its majority stands firm, it can impose its will on him and the Senate, either in the arena of public opinion by making Edwards become accepted as the most responsible force for endorsing what he repeatedly calls unacceptable, or in the arena of public policy by having him accede to right-sizing government.

Undoubtedly he will try to break that resolve. It’s no accident that the special session timing adheres to the dénouement of the budget process, for during the session Edwards has the chance to cast line item vetoes in it designed to punish opponents who do not submit to his fiscal scheming. But responsibility to the greater good of the state calls upon any legislator professing to put people before government to stay firm on this issue of resisting in the main tax increases.

Ironically, Edwards spoke of a time of choosing harder and easier paths, then completely mislabeled taking more of what people earn as the difficult option. Typically clueless, he does not understand that real political courage will come from halting the swelling of the state and disappointing the interests served by that to afford greater freedom and economic opportunity to all of its citizens.

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