For the third time in a year Virginia Democrats blocked passage of the state's biennial budget. This time the stated reason was that the budget, which passed the GOP-controlled House of Delegates overwhelmingly, did not include enough funding for transportation in the northern part of the state. Senate Democrats said they were particularly concerned that there is insufficient funding for a project already underway to extend the region's Metro system all the way out to Washington-Dulles International Airport.
The Virginia State Senate is evenly split between 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans. In most instances Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, can cast a tie-breaking vote when it is needed—but not where the budget is concerned. The only way to pass a budget out of the chamber is to get 21 senators to vote for it.
State GOP leaders thought they had reached the magic number several weeks ago when conservative Democrat Charles Colgan, the state's longest serving senator, voted with the Republicans to move the budget to the floor. After being lobbied intensely by his Democratic colleagues, however, Colgan voted against it when it first came to the floor and it failed, 20 to 19.
Some commentators allowed that the budget impasse was merely an example of intense partisan politicking at the state level and that the Democrats were simply playing hardball. Indeed, late Wednesday the budget was again brought to the floor and Colgan again changed his vote, allowing it to pass with the 21 votes required for passage.
There may have been another reason Virginia’s Senate Democratic leadership preferred continued gridlock to a negotiated settlement--and that is to frustrate the national ambitions of GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell.
McDonnell is extremely popular in Virginia, without whose electoral votes it may be difficult for the GOP to win the upcoming presidential election. McDonnell has been mentioned repeatedly as a potential running-mate for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney should Romney, as is now expected, emerge from the Republican National Convention as the party's presidential nominee.
He's been an excellent governor, with a strong record of accomplishments that will add much to the national ticket. He's also popular with the kind of GOP primary voters who, to this point, have expressed doubts about Romney's conservative bona fides. A Romney-McDonnell ticket would surely move Virginia, which went for the Republicans in every national election between 1968 and 2004, back into the GOP column for president.
Without a budget, the Virginia government might have gone into a partial shutdown which, even if temporary, would have been a potential embarrassment to McDonnell on the national campaign trail. A government shutdown would also make it harder for Romney to pick McDonnell for the No. 2 spot on the ticket as it reinforces an image of the GOP the Democrats have been pushing since the 1995 Clinton-Gingrich standoff.
Are the Democrats that sophisticated? Sure they are. They understand how to "kneecap" a potential opponent long before the apparent need for such action becomes necessary. To them, forcing a shutdown of the Virginia government would have been a small price to pay to keep Barack Obama in the White House for another four years.