capital outlay 051618

Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, confers with Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, during debate Wednesday, May 16, 2018 over the state's construction budget.

An old story from the U.S. Capitol is that of a young representative who is flattered to be invited for drinks with the old bulls of the House Democratic leadership, talking legislative strategy. The green young man offers an idea about how to confound the Republicans.

One of the old guys corrects him: “The Republicans are just the opposition. The Senate is the enemy.”

It’s never been that bad in Louisiana’s State Capitol, but we’re getting there. The deadlock forced on tax bills by a minority of ultraconservatives angers the Senate because the constitution requires taxes to originate in the House. Even as the third special session of 2018 is grinding into gridlock, with the upper chamber having nothing to do, one of the cleverer senators has an end-around.

If the House won’t pass suitable tax bills because the two-thirds vote of the chamber is not there, state Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, proposes a concurrent resolution that would not deal directly with the sales tax or the exemptions scheduled to expire in two weeks, because that would be a 70-vote measure by any standard in the House. Instead, he would suspend the termination date of the exemptions, thus extending the current taxes for a year.

That, he and Senate President John Alario suggest, is an innocent measure that can start in the Senate, not the House; it requires a majority in both chambers, meaning 53 votes in the House instead of the nigh-impossible hurdle of 70. And it threatens the House with extension of a lot of taxes, much more than the House wants to replace.

Maybe that will break the deadlock.

But it’s also a challenge to the House’s prerogatives, and one can hardly imagine the lower chamber going along with it.

Veteran Capitol reporter Sue Lincoln, writing in The Bayou Brief, called it the “Machiavelli option.” Perhaps the better phrase is nuclear option, because it strikes at the House’s power of the purse. House members maybe won’t say the Senate is the enemy, but it’s difficult to imagine them going along with Morrell.