Brown: Democrats need to find own path out of Rauner’s rut

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Gov. Bruce Rauner shake hands with lawmakers after delivering his annual budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly in the House chambers at the Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, in Springfield. | Seth Perlman/AP

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Gov. Bruce Rauner is stuck in a rut of his own making.

He calls it persistence.

I call it frustrating.

Rauner delivered another big speech Wednesday, again employing a more moderate tone and body language, changes that I presume were intended to make him seem more humble and reasonable.

Rauner also changed the order of the words we have become accustomed to hearing him speak, putting more emphasis on his willingness to compromise and work together.

In the end, though, the governor ended back up in the same old place that he always does with his familiar ransom demands — promising to swap his human budget hostages for legislative relief for the business community.

“This year cannot become a re-run of last year,” Rauner exhorted Illinois lawmakers.

Then why did he return with only a slightly nuanced variation of the approach that has yet to result in a budget for 2016, leaving eight months of damage in its wake?


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I thought the folks at SEIU Healthcare Illinois came up with an apt summation of the governor’s two-option budget for the state in 2017.

“Bruce Rauner’s budget proposal? A. My way. B. The highway,” wrote James Muhammad, the union’s vice president.

It reminded me some of that story President Barack Obama told last week of making his first big speech in Springfield only to have former state Senate Republican Leader James “Pate” Philip tell him afterward that he may have changed minds but he hadn’t changed any votes.

In Rauner’s case, he’s not even changing minds, let alone votes, yet he persists.

The governor seems to think that if he could just make the perfect speech, if he could only explain himself more clearly using just the right words, then everybody would fall in line behind him.

But it’s not happening because not everybody believes what he believes, and most important because a majority of the Legislature was elected to represent a viewpoint that runs counter to his.

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I’m not absolving the Democrats of blame.

They were key architects of the irresponsible spending practices that put the state government in its current fiscal mess, which isn’t the same as blaming them for the dismal state of the Illinois economy as Rauner does.

And now they’ve allowed themselves to get stuck in the same rut with Rauner, following along behind in his wagon tracks. House Speaker Mike Madigan’s response to Rauner was as repetitive as the governor.

What I’d like to see is for Illinois Democrats to come up with their own coherent vision of a pro-business agenda that could help revive the state’s economy. They don’t have to take the blame for the situation to acknowledge there is a real problem.

I’m talking about proposing real ideas that somebody is willing to stand behind, not election-year gimmicks intended merely for show votes in the Legislature.

Move some pro-business bills through the General Assembly. Let Rauner take some credit if he chooses. Then push through the tax hike that is going to be necessary to fund government services at the level that is necessary.

One of the problems remains that Illinois Democrats have no leader who can take on Rauner on behalf of the public that disagrees with him.

That’s what made it so interesting Wednesday to see Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton bashing Rauner on the campaign trail in Chicago.

We don’t really see a lot of that around here, not even from House Speaker Mike Madigan, Rauner’s preferred foil.

As I say, there was a nuanced difference in Rauner’s approach this year.

The governor said that if Democrats won’t give him the “compromise” reforms he wants, then they should at least give him the power to cut this year’s budget in whatever manner he thinks necessary.

As it stands, Rauner contends he is too constrained by legal requirements such as those setting the reimbursement rates for Medicaid providers.

Last year, Democrats sent Rauner an out-of-whack budget and challenged him to make the cuts. He declined to play along, and for the most part vetoed the budget in its entirety. Now, he’s saying he’ll gladly cut, if he’s given a free hand in how to do it.

All that would accomplish is getting us out of the rut and into the ditch.

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