FRANKFORT — When he walked onto the House floor late Tuesday after a conference committee on the Medicaid budget reached what turned out to be its final impasse, Speaker Greg Stumbo was greeted by a standing ovation from Democratic representatives as well as one or two Republicans.
It was an expression of appreciation for the House leader's refusal to go along with Senate President David Williams' demand that state spending be cut across the board as part of a fix for this year's Medicaid shortfall.
For many House Democrats, any day Williams' plans get stymied is a good day. By such a standard, they had a very good 2011 session because Williams, dubbed the "bully from Burkesville" in a Courier-Journal editorial from years gone by, spent the past several weeks getting figurative sand kicked in his face.
Start with the dozen or so planks of the Tea Party-influenced Republican agenda/gubernatorial campaign platform he rushed through the Senate in early January. Three non-controversial measures dealing with transparency, school principals and the state's interaction with businesses won legislative approval. But none of the biggies made it.
No independent panel tasked with rewriting the state tax code.
No switch of public pension plans from "defined benefits" to "defined contributions."
No charter schools or state meddling in the Jefferson County school assignment plan.
No new campaign finance rules for candidates seeking statewide constitutional offices. (Gee, I really liked this one.)
No 48-hour delay in voting on budget bills. (I kinda dug this one, too.)
No Arizona-style roundup of illegal aliens.
No strengthening of the "informed consent" rules for expectant mothers.
No thumbing of the nose at federalism with a "21st Century Bill of Rights" amendment to the state constitution.
No performance awards for teachers based on student achievement.
And although it wasn't one of the pieces of legislation rushed through the Senate in the first week of the session, no resolution urging Congress to call a federal constitutional convention for the purpose of drafting a balanced-budget amendment.
However, it's doubtful any of these failures was as embarrassing to Williams as the slow — very, very slow — death endured by Senate Bill 45, a measure promoted by 5th District U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers as a means of curtailing methamphetamine production in Kentucky. The bill would have required a prescription for medicines containing pseudoephedrine, an ingredient in popular over-the-counter allergy medications that is also an essential precursor in manufacturing meth.
Although SB 45's primary sponsor was Sen. Tom Jensen, Williams lent his support to it as well. He sat beside Rogers during a committee hearing on the bill and joined the congressman (and Stumbo) in testifying on its behalf.
SB 45 was posted for passage in the Senate orders of the day for Feb. 4. Late in the day Wednesday, it remained there, having been passed over for 22 successive legislative days.
This prompted Majority Floor Leader Robert Stivers to "move that Senate Bill 45 be passed over and retain its place in the orders of the day in perpetuity" to much laughter. A few moments later, he withdrew the motion and had the bill sent back to committee.
Simply put, Williams couldn't gin up enough votes in his own majority caucus to deliver the goods for Rogers. For a bully from Burkesville, that has to be even more embarrassing than failing to intimidate House Democratic leaders in the end-of-session conference committee.
If Williams maintains his position on the Medicaid budget through the coming special session, more bad days could lie ahead for him.
By and large, those health care providers who will see their Medicaid reimbursements cut by as much as 30 percent between April 1 and June 30 if Williams continues to block a transfer of funds from next year's budget to this year's are a Republican constituency.
Williams already has one traditional source of Republican funding, the Thoroughbred industry, angry at him. Ticking off another red-leaning group doesn't seem like the brightest move to make in the midst of a gubernatorial campaign — even if you have an "Unforgettable" basketball legend on your ticket.