Violence in Washington overshadows otherwise high political drama
The typical Washington drama of hearings and partisan rhetoric was eclipsed by violence last week when a gunman opened fire on a Republican congressional baseball practice in Alexandra, Va., injuring a top-ranking Republican congressman, an aide and two police officers.
The impact of the event stopped most regular business at the U.S. Capitol and White House for the day and rippled across the country to every state including Connecticut, where gun violence has taken a heavy toll. The state’s congressional delegation members were unified in their sympathy for House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and the others injured, and in their condemnation of the shooting; but Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was among the few public officials with the temerity to bring up the issue of gun control.
Thursday, Connecticut’s federal lawmakers joined their counterparts from around the country in attending the congressional baseball game, in U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty’s words: to “stand in solidarity against hatred and violence.”
Back in Connecticut, the particularly acute pain and acrimony over gun violence was underscored by NBC Connecticut’s decision not to air Megyn Kelly’s interview tonight of Sandy Hook denier Alex Jones. The decision was both supported and criticized by local journalists.
During it all, at the state Capitol in Hartford, the state’s failure to adopt a budget lingered after the legislative session like a bad hangover. In fact, if no budget is passed soon, that hangover could become a migraine.
Monday, before the gunman set everything on edge, the cost of retiree health and pension benefits emerged again as a significant factor in the University of Connecticut Health Center’s current – and growing – financial shortfall, estimated at $59.4 million next fiscal year.
A similar, albeit much larger, phenomenon haunts the overall state budget, which seemed no closer to being resolved among Democratic and Republican lawmakers and Malloy. The state’s lackluster economy showed no sign of improvement, either, with unemployment holding steady at 4.9 percent but growth in housing prices lagging behind the national level.
The prospect of Draconian budget cuts – particularly in support for the disabled – prompted advocates to call for higher sales taxes as a way to protect the state’s most vulnerable citizens.
Some other hot and not-so-hot legislative issues continued reverberating after the session, including the decision to allow the Mohegan and Mashantucket tribal nations to build a casino in East Windsor – off tribal lands. The tribes got a visit from U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose office had a role in the state’s debate.
Also, the state’s inaction on a measure to revise the state’s TRUST Act (a law the limits local law-enforcement’s role in detaining undocumented immigrants) demonstrated “a complete lack of political will” on legislators’ part at a crucial time, immigrant advocates said.
The failure to act on a seemingly innocuous item concerning charitable giving was also cause for an argument between State Senate Republicans and Comptroller Kevin Lembo.
School desegregation continues to be a point of conflict, as well; and Friday, in a state which is 75 percent white, a Superior Court judge ruled that the government may not designate an 80 percent minority school as being “desegregated.”
Until the shooting started, Tuesday’s testimony by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had been the height of the week’s drama in Washington, D.C.
Sessions condemned any claim that he colluded with Russians as a “detestable lie,” but beyond that answered few of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s questions. The testimony inspired Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who could only observe, to say he would like to take a crack at Sessions in an appearance before the Judiciary Committee where he sits.
But Blumenthal, it turns out, was just getting warmed up in becoming a burr under President Donald Trump’s saddle. He is leading a group of 30 senators and 166 U.S. representatives in suing the president for what they say is Trump’s violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.
Blumenthal and his colleague Sen. Chris Murphy also asked Senate appropriators for $150 million more to put toward the construction of a new Columbia-class nuclear missile submarine being built, in large part, by Electric Boat in Groton.
By Friday, the more standard political rhetoric was resuming with a fiery speech in Miami by the president announcing a rollback of some of former President Barack Obama’s initiative to normalize relations with Cuba. Connecticut’s lawmakers said the move, among other things, would harm U.S. businesses.
Republican advocacy for repealing the Affordable Care Act, meanwhile, has upped the anxiety among residents who buy their health insurance through Connecticut’s exchange, where the only two remaining companies are asking for double-digit rate increases.
As a consequence, officials at Access Health, Connecticut’s health insurance exchange, are beginning to pay attention to alternatives being tested in other states, including a single-payer system and Medicaid-for-all.
Democrats and Republicans don’t agree on a lot these days, but came together in Hartford at a conference on “Re-imagining Justice” hosted by the governor and his wife, Cathy.
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