A weekend at home, away from the Capitol and all that partisan rancor. Maybe that’s all it would take to break the Virginia budget standoff in Richmond, Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) hoped aloud late last week.
Well, Norment and the rest of the General Assembly were back in town Monday. And what were Republicans and Democrats discussing on the Senate floor? How best to spend $85 billion?
No, the debate du jour was this: Which party had brought greater shame to Virginia?
Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) said that the heavy police presence at a Capitol Square rally supporting abortion rights last weekend had embarrassed the state, just as GOP-backed ultrasound-before-abortion legislation had made Virginia “a national laughingstock.”
“They were marching and chanting for women’s rights,” Howell said. “And what did they face? SWAT teams, state police in full riot gear, police armed with semiautomatic guns and dogs — dogs. Not since the massive resistance days of the 1960s have I seen such a disgraceful display of excessive police presence.”
Norment, in turn, blamed Howell for bringing national attention to the ultrasound bill, which would have required most women seeking an abortion to first submit to an invasive form of the test involving a vaginal probe.
“Some may not like some of the bills that have passed,” Norment said. “But you know what? They are passed. They are gone. And they are in no way tied to the fiscal decisions that this body needs to make. And if you think it helps the public image by going on national TV and further contributing to put warts on the face of Virginia, then I find it somewhat disingenuous to stand up on the floor of the Senate and talk about how horrible Virginia looks.”
Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico), who has been part of a push to use the budget stalemate in the evenly split Senate to win more committee power for Democrats, countered: “If you think that the social issues are not going to be the emphasis of this upcoming budget debate, you are sorely mistaken. It is not over.”
Finally, one thing both parties can agree on: When it comes to the budget, it’s not over.