MAY 31, 2023
House, Senate leadership offer different views on bipartisanship this spring
House Minority Leader Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) and House Speaker Chris Welch (D-Hillside) deliver closing statements to the House on Saturday morning. [Blue Room Steam]
Bipartisanship looks different in both chambers of the General Assembly even as Democrats have a super majority in each, according to speeches the four legislative leaders gave last week to close out the spring session
For Republicans, the spring session was the first for their current leadership regimes as House Minority Leader Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) and Senate Minority Leader John Curran (R-Downers Grove) led their caucuses for the first time and were immediately challenged by the largest super majority Democrats have ever had in the General Assembly. Both took office expressing a desire to work across the aisle, but each received a different reception from Democrats.
McCombie and House Speaker Chris Welch (D-Hillside) held nearly weekly meetings with each other throughout the spring. But in a speech around 2:45 a.m. Saturday, McCombie expressed her disappointment at Welch’s reception.
“Regardless of our weekly meetings, Speaker Welch, you gave us false hope for a new day,” McCombie said. “The House Republicans were denied participation in many things but most importantly, this year’s budget process. But we will not be discouraged, and we will move forward with renewed purpose.”
House Republicans were not invited to participate in budget negotiations with House leadership led by Speaker Pro Tempore Jehan Gordon Booth (D-Peoria). McCombie contrasted that with in-depth conversations she had with Gov. JB Pritzker and his staff saying “they are receptive” to bipartisanship.
In his own passionate speech Saturday morning, Welch shot back at McCombie’s accusations.
“I don’t just talk the talk,” Welch said. “I walk the walk. Every single person that’s asked for a meeting in this body has had that meeting.”
“Every single time the leader asked to meet, I met with her,” Welch said. “But I’ll tell you one of the last times I met with her, I asked will Republicans put votes on the board… Never got back to me. I asked will you at least put the leaders on the board? Isn’t that a fair question to ask. That’s a fair question to ask. Work with us and put some votes on the board! Put it on the board!”
At a news conference Friday afternoon, McCombie explained that Welch had asked for those Republican votes even though Republicans had not seen the budget or were invited to participate in any budget talks.
“If we have to go over the House and Senate leadership to be included and the governor is willing to do that and go forward in good faith, then great, that’s what we’ll do,” McCombie told reporters. “But I hope that’s not what we do. We all want to vote on the budget… hopefully Speaker Welch will continue to meet with me and our teams over the summer and hopefully will trust our team and have us at the table.”
McCombie reiterated that request to Welch Saturday morning that she first made to the speaker on inauguration day in January.
“I’ve been open, I’ve been honest, and I’ve been present,” McCombie said. “Although we may not always agree, our caucus did not want you to go it alone. That was your choice. So, I extend, again over the summer and coming months as we approach a very busy veto, bring us to the table. We are problem solvers. Use our knowledge. Benefit from our talents. We are here to govern. Speaker, before it’s too late, I ask you to put aside political agendas and do what’s right. Bring forth our legislation for a vote.”
McCombie said Republicans have taken a serious approach to governing this year by creating five working groups to craft legislation on specific issues and leading bipartisan legislation to address fentanyl overdoses and end Illinois’ ban on nuclear reactor construction.
“Speaker, tomorrow is a new day,” McCombie said. “Let us work together to implement the changes that all, all of our constituents will be proud of. Speaker Welch, join me in being accessible, and transparent, and let’s bring our caucuses together to frame real solutions.”
Welch took a victory lap for his own party Saturday morning saying they’ve addressed issues that voters wanted them to explore such as gun violence and reproductive healthcare.
“Winners do the work. And The Great 78 was sent here to do the work,” Welch said. “And by the work you see here in this budget, that’s some pretty impressive work. I knew we weren’t going to always agree, but I believe that everyone who is honest about their ‘why’ is going to walk out of this chamber and head back home to our districts with wins for our communities.”
Creating the state budget takes compromises, said Welch, whose caucus struggled to agree on budget principles and forced session to be drawn out for an extra week. He said despite their votes against the budget, he expects Republicans will be celebrating it.
“It would take me all night to read the things that you’re going to get to go home with and brag about even though you voted ‘no,’” Welch said.
“You’ve never had a budget this far in advance to go through and wrap in a bow and to bring it out here as a prop,” Welch said. “You’ve never had that much time. Rather than using it as a prop, read it. That’s why we gave you the time to read it. Not to wrap it up as a present and bring it to the floor as a prop. We’re committed to a process of working together.”
The budget is typically introduced and voted on in both chambers in the final hours of session. But because neither chamber had advanced a spending bill this session, the bill was forced to go through three calendar days of review in the House before a vote. The final version of the Fiscal Year 2024 budget was filed in the Senate around 10 p.m. Thursday and voted on in the House at 2:30 a.m. Saturday, giving lawmakers less than 30 hours to review it.
While McCombie made pleas to Welch to be included in the budget process going forward, Welch praised McCombie’s leadership style.
“Thank you for our shared commitment to civility and respect,” Welch said. “Many issues we’re polar opposites. We’ve seen that here tonight. But every time we’ve spoke in my office or here on the floor… I’ve never questioned your integrity or your intentions. I do believe Republicans have made an excellent choice in choosing you as leader.”
McCombie’s struggles to get House Republicans into the budget room didn’t happen for Curran and the Senate Republicans. Senate Republicans remained in budget conversations through the final hours of sessions this year, drawing Senate Democrats a round of praise from Senate Republicans.
“A lot of good collaborative work, especially in committees, and engagement with our side of the aisle, I want to thank you sincerely for that,” Curran said in closing session remarks around 2 a.m. Friday.
No Senate Republicans voted for the budget despite being included in talks. They said Democrats’ failure to include some Republican priorities like the Invest in Kids scholarship program was a deal breaker, but they acknowledged the budget had positive pieces.
“This has been an unusual session and it has been one that emphasizes that cooperation, collaboration, and collegiality are indeed possible and do make the process and the legislative output better,” Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) said Friday morning.
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