WASHINGTON - APRIL 15: Jim Griffin, dressed as Captain America, joins conservatives as they participate in a Tea Party Protest in Freedom Plaza April 15, 2010 in Washington, DC. The event, titled the People's Tax Revolt, coincided with the day that American citizens are required to file their national income tax. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
From the Department of Thinking Out Loud: Why don't California's conservatives and Tea Party activists get behind the ballot initiative, backed mostly by Democrats, to end the two-thirds vote requirement for passing budgets?
Those in the know will laugh at the suggestion. Republicans like the leverage that the two-thirds vote gives them in the budget process, and don't want to give it up. But that said, it would be much better for conservatives and the Tea Party if budgets could be approve by a majority vote. One wonders when the right will awaken to the self interest it has in adopting this change.
What would conservatives have to gain? Well, the Tea Party has identified as its mortal enemies moderate Republicans who compromise with the other party. The two-thirds system serves to empower exactly that kind of Republican.
Here's how. In order to win enough votes to pass budgets, the majority Democrats in the legislature have to convince a handful of Republicans to break ranks and vote for a budget. This gives moderate Republicans outsized power--they essentially can name a high price for thier budget vote. No one has done a better job of demanding a high price for their vote than then-State Sen. Abel Maldonado did last February during budget negotiations. Maldonado, as a price of voting for a budget, managed to force changes in the budget, convinced Democrats to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that he favored (that measure, Prop 14 on this June's ballot, passed, and its backers say it will lead to the election of more moderates), and garnered so much publicity that he got himself appointed lieutenant governor.
Maldonado is exactly the sort of Republican who Tea Party activists love to hate. If they don't want more Maldonados, they should work to get rid of the two-thirds rule. A majority vote budget also would make it easier for conservatives to maintain discipline. Instead of a budget process that requires a few Republicans to break ranks to get to two-thirds, a majority-vote budget would allow GOP legislators to oppose a budget entirely -- and thus reap the political gain if the budget goes bad.
Will the Tea Party get wise and embrace this change? I'm not betting on it. It makes too much sense.