Sound Off: Democrats are in charge but GOP is helping steer the debate

It’s the home stretch of the 2019 legislative session.

With a month to go, Democrats are looking to use their majorities in the House and Senate to drive home ambitious policies covering behavioral health, higher education, environment, labor and taxation — to name a few.

This week, they released their budgets in each chamber and now it’s pretty much a matter of Democrats reaching agreement with Democrats on one spending blueprint by April 28, the last scheduled day.

What about the other team, the Grand Old Party?

Republicans lost ground in the November 2018 election and are outnumbered 57-41 in the House and 28-21 in the Senate.

But they still represent a sizable portion of the state’s 7.5 million residents and the majority of its acreage — too many people and too much territory to be roundly ignored.

In the House, they are the disrupters. They seem to be lying in legislative wait for opportune moments to slow, detour or derail the majority’s machine. Ultimately for them success will be measured by which bills die, are amended or never get voted on.

“We want to pursue things that unite our caucus and divide the other caucus,” said House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, who is in his first year at the helm. “Republicans can’t defeat anything on the (House) floor in the minority. What we do can impact what Democrats bring to the floor.”

Democratic leaders don’t necessarily analyze it the same way.

Winning support of moderate Democratic senators requires tailoring or shelving of some policy bills, they say.

And, they contend, Republicans can effectively keep a bill from reaching the floor of a chamber by filing a stack of amendments to filibuster on it. There isn’t always enough time on the clock for protracted debate, even when the final outcome is predictable, Democratic leaders say.

Wilcox said the notion that moderate Democrats in the Senate are affecting the party’s agenda overlooks the role of Republican resistance in each chamber.

And as far as what comes up on the floor, he said: “It’s really the majority that makes that choice.”

These dynamics will get fully tested in the final month when the focus turns to the budgets.

House Democrats are proposing a capital gains tax to help make ends meet in their spending plan. It’s not a new idea for them though they’ve offered different versions in the past.

What would be new is if the House actually voted on it before sending the budget to the Senate. House Democrats didn’t do so when Republicans ran the Senate because they figured it was DOA. Ultimately, the tax came off the table during final budget negotiations.

This is a different year with different dynamics. Moreover there is a very progressive group of first-year lawmakers in the House Democratic caucus.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said there will be a hearing on the capital gains tax legislation but no promises after that.

“We don’t want to spend a lot of floor time fighting over taxes,” he said.

Sounds like the loyal opposition may already be in their heads.

• Jerry Cornfield is a writer for the Everett Herald.

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