Something changed in the past week for Democrats watching Pennsylvania’s budget impasse drag on.
They found a villain in House Speaker Mike Turzai.
It began last Saturday, when House Republicans said they would withdraw their support for the tentative budget agreement reached with Gov. Tom Wolf and the Senate. And it intensified in the days that followed, as Turzai repeated his concerns about the 6 percent spending increase included in the spending plan approved by the Senate with the governor’s blessing on Monday.
Throughout the summer, GOP House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, was the face of the chamber’s Republicans as he discussed their concerns and updated the press on budget negotiations.
But since the House Republicans walked away from a tentative deal with the Senate and Wolf administration, Turzai, R-Allegheny, has taken center stage as the caucus mouthpiece.
“I’m a leader, and I’m reflective of where our caucus is,” Turzai told reporters Friday. “The House Republican caucus is a fiscally responsible group of legislators. They have always wanted to hold the line on taxes. They have always wanted to hold the line on spending.”
So far, Republicans in the Senate have been careful not to malign their House counterparts – at least not publicly.
“That’s a different dynamic,” said GOP Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman. “I’m not going to criticize or frustrate what they’ve got. I respect what they’re trying to do.”
But Democrats are starting to throw rhetorical bombs.
“After the actions of several tea party members of the caucus, led by Speaker Turzai, it is now clear that this impasse is on the House Republicans,” said Wolf’s spokesman Jeff Sheridan in an email sent Friday.
Rep. Flo Fabrizio, D-Erie, spoke at a Friday morning press conference that featured rank-and-file House Democrats bashing their GOP colleagues for cancelling the day’s voting session.
“The blame for any continuation of this budget impasse rests squarely on this speaker and his followers,” said Fabrizio. “Or henchmen — whichever you’d like to call them.”
The line was met with laughter by Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland, an avowed conservative.
“That’s awesome,” Bloom said. “Sorry, that’s awesome.”
He shrugged off the Democrats’ criticism of Turzai.
“The reason he’s speaker is because the majority of us believe in him and stand for the same things he stands for,” said Bloom, “which is a fiscally conservative approach.”