Brown: Rauner not following Dems’ shutdown script

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House Speaker Michael Madigan talks with reporters Tuesday afternoon in Springfield. Photo by Sun-Times Media

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Usually, Republicans are only too happy to embrace a government shutdown, all the better to prove their point that there’s no need for much of it.

But there was Gov. Bruce Rauner on Tuesday, basically declining a Democratic invitation to allow the state’s budget crisis to become a real crisis.

Rauner started his day with personal visits to various state agencies in Springfield, promising state employees that he will make sure they are paid in full and on time, despite the absence of a budget authorizing him to do so.

Whether he can legally do this is a matter of considerable dispute that caused some Democratic legislators to work themselves into a lather.

Although they oppose a shutdown, they would rather Rauner embrace it — and thus take the blame.

Instead, a relaxed Rauner coolly said his administration was “doing everything we can to make sure there’s no shutdown” and to minimize any disruption.

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I guess that’s one lesson his advisers learned from their experience in Washington where government shutdowns never proved as politically popular as Republicans had hoped.

The approach seemed to throw Democrats off their game. How do they blame Rauner for a shutdown when he keeps saying he wants no part of it?

Now they’re talking about sending the governor a one-month budget on Wednesday to allow him to continue funding “critical services,” which he acts like he doesn’t need.

If it does come to a shutdown, Democrats have a few problems they really ought to consider.

Unlike Rauner, a born salesman who can step up and communicate his position to the public as he did pretty effectively Tuesday, Democrats don’t really have anyone to send forth to explain their course of action.

Neither House Speaker Mike Madigan nor Senate President John Cullerton has enough credibility with the statewide public at this point to serve as an effective spokesman.

For too long, Madigan didn’t think he needed to answer to anybody but his Democratic members and allowed himself to be cast as the bogeyman.

As long as he could continue to re-elect his Democratic members, he was insulated from those attacks. Now that Madigan is choosing to step before the cameras again, nobody knows whether he means what he says or is just playing out some calculated political diversion.

Plus, there’s the small problem that Democrats don’t come to the table with clean hands because they didn’t send Rauner a balanced budget in the first place.

At best, we’re in a stalemate situation in which the public isn’t sure who to blame so will blame everyone.

At worst, the Democrats could be opening themselves up to Republican breakthroughs in the next election.

I say this as somebody who has made pretty clear my opposition to Rauner and his approach to governing.

I don’t think the governor should be predicating the budget on tangential issues, no matter how worthy he thinks they are, and I especially don’t think he is justified in using the people who rely on state services as hostages in his power play.

But Democrats can’t claim the high ground if they won’t put forward a balanced budget. That requires either spending cuts or a tax increase.

If they don’t want the cuts, they have to put forward a tax increase. They have signaled their willingness to do so, but won’t take the leap on their own, even though they have enough votes to do so.

For political protection, they don’t want to pass a tax increase without Republican votes — and assurances from Rauner that he’s on board.

That’s where they have their biggest problem.

Rauner isn’t opposed to raising taxes. He just won’t do so without approval of his “reform” agenda in which Illinois will be miraculously restored to prosperity by paying people less if they are injured on the job, and other hokum Democrats just can’t support.

If Rauner doesn’t want to shut down the government while they’re sorting this out, there’s no sense in making him do so.

Follow Mark Brown on Twitter: @MarkBrownCST

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