If gridlock should set in, the whole package of cuts and taxes could end up being rewritten at the eleventh hour by a six-member conference committee. Important bills often wind up in conference, where conferees (three from each chamber) can literally rewrite a bill entirely. When a bill emerges from conference, it goes directly to both chambers for a straight up-or-down vote. No amendments. All or nothing. A final showdown.In fact, something like this played out at the end of the last regular session as the House raced through a flurry of bills freshly reported out of committee in the final hours.
As the clock ticks down to the final hours, all eyes will be on Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, the dean of the Legislature. Alario knows this process better than anyone. He is the master of the conference committee and a deft hand at forging compromise.
As the House anguishes over every detail of every tax measure and every spending bill, Alario sits patiently in the Senate, knowing he may be called upon to sort things out. I can almost hear him whispering to his House counterparts, “Come to Papa.”
Thursday votes closed a $1.6 billion projected budget deficit — at least on paper — and ended the state’s biggest budget crisis since the late 1980s. But it will take at least a day of sorting through Thursday’s final budget and tax votes to determine exactly to what extent legislators solved the problem.Guiding this runaway herd of bills through at that time was then Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger holding the gavel instead of then Speaker Chuck Kleckey because... well.. competence, mostly. If you're the sort of person who watches the Legislature's video feeds, this was about the best TV you'll see there.
House members rushed through a series of bills during the final hour of session, with little explanation, even as members hugged and said their goodbyes. Lawmakers voted to approve the budget – 80-19 in the House and 37-2 in the Senate – without a detailed explanation of what it contained.
So the scenario Clancy describes wherein John Alario and a few pals write the whole budget at the last minute is probably what has informed Governor Edwards's strategy throughout the special session. All the governor really as to do, then, is sit and wait.
He's already let the Republicans in the House have their little fit. Meanwhile he's calmly dinged them in the press calling special attention to how unreasonable they are being. In the end, it works out fine as long as Alario really can fix everything. It could work. But without clear control of the House it's also risky. Edwards wanted Leger to be Speaker for a reason. As it happens, he does not have that luxury. So he's still counting on cooperation from Taylor Barras and Cameron Henry if he wants to get this budget fix through in time. Things are looking a bit better on that front today. But there's still a lot of work to do.