Senate Dems to House Dems: You’re not welcome

How raw are feelings between House and Senate Democrats over each chamber’s killing the other’s favored bills Wednesday, the annual session’s last night? The Senate pointedly quashed plans for the joint post-session press conference its leaders typically hold with House counterparts.

“Last night, they told us they weren’t interested,” Doug Whiting, communication director for the House Democrats, said Thursday.

Senate Democratic leaders were angry that House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, refused to pass a bipartisan jobs bill, a consequence of the Senate’s being unwilling to support Donovan’s proposed minimum-wage increase.

So they did their own press conference, where Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, was free to blame the House Democrats for making passage of a popular jobs bill contingent on a controversial minimum wage hike.

“How is it possible that this bill was left to the last day of the session and then did not pass?” said Williams, who earlier urged reporters to pose that question elsewhere: “You’d have to ask the speaker.”

Donovan, a candidate for Congress, was the only caucus leader to forgo the annual post-session tradition of meeting with the press. Instead, he attended a rally with the Service Employees International Union.

“We did a lot of great things together,” Donovan said in a telephone interview, describing his relationship with the Senate leadership. “We weren’t able to come together on these two items.”

Williams rejected any House suggestions that the Senate was equally culpable in the standoff.

Donovan proposed increasing the minimum wage at the beginning of the session without consulting with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy or Senate Democrats, who immediately raised questions about the timing.

With a fragile economy and the GOP targeting Democrats as anti-business, a majority of Senate Democrats and a sizable number of House Democrats took the position that a minimum wage vote should be tabled until next year.

“Contrast that with our jobs bill, which had nothing but bipartisan support,” Williams said. “It was wrong for anyone to think that these bills should be linked in any way at a time when our businesses need help in a very tough economy.”

Donovan now is likely to face questions on the campaign trail about why he chose to leverage a modest minimum wage increase against a jobs bill that offered aid to small and medium businesses and returning veterans.

But Donovan, even though he could not identify sufficient votes for passage of the minimum wage, said he was confident that a majority ultimately would have cast a vote for a raise had Williams called the bill.

Williams downplayed the chilly relationship with Donovan: He blamed the speaker’s absence at the press conference on a scheduling conflict, not a snub by the Senate.

But a spokesman later acknowledged Whiting’s account: The House was prepared to do a joint press conference, but the Senate refused.

Unresolved is if the Senate jobs bill can be salvaged in a special session necessary to pass bills needed to implement the budget.

Williams said he believes the bill would be saved as something “too important to fall by the wayside.”

Donovan would not rule out another try at the jobs bill — or a minimum wage increase. He said both were important.

“I stopped off at Dunkin’ Donuts today and asked, ‘What do you guys make?’ ‘Minimum wage.’ The woman said, ‘It’s going up in January.’ I said, ‘Unfortunately, it didn’t pass,’ ” Donovan said.

Donovan originally proposed increasing the $8.25 minimum by 75 cents a year over two years. To pick up votes, Donovan eventually compromised on a 25-cent increase in each of the next two years.

The intra-family dispute did not undermine the main talking point at the GOP press conference as articulated by Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield: “One party government doesn’t work.”