Why neither side is blinking in Wisconsin's union-GOP budget showdown
Unionized civil service workers and Gov. Scott Walker remain miles apart over collective bargaining as Wisconsin budget showdown continues. What will it take to break the deadlock?
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Fifty-six percent of Wisconsin residents say the 14 Democrats should return to Madison for the vote, but fewer, 43 percent, approve of Walker's collective bargaining plan, according to a recent nonpartisan poll by the group WeAskAmerica. (A nationwide USA Today/Gallup poll released Tuesday found that 61 percent of Americans would oppose a law in their state similar to one being considered in Wisconsin, versus 33 percent who would favor such a law.)Skip to next paragraph
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The two sides' stark ideological differences are making it hard to find middle ground, some observers say. The unions see themselves as standing up for the little guy against the influence of faceless corporations. The GOP lawmakers see themselves as defending small-government ideals and the principle that debt-reduction will drive job creation and raise wages and living standards for everybody.
On Tuesday, Senate Republicans moved ahead on a number of nonfiscal bills, as they still lacked a quorum for a vote on the collective bargaining change. Meanwhile, in the Assembly, a Republican super-majority faces Democrats who vow to introduce as many as 200 amendments to the bill, in a bid to stymie a final vote scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
More not-so-subtle gamesmanship is under way in an effort to get an up-or-down vote on Walker's bill. Republicans are trying to entice at least one Democratic senator into returning to Madison by bringing up nonfiscal bills, which require a simple majority vote instead of a two-thirds supermajority vote needed for finance legislation. Among them: a bill honoring Super Bowl champs the Green Bay Packers, a declaration submitted by one of the absent Democrats.
"There's a lot of pent-up energy here on the Republican side, and I don't see them compromising on anything, but rather looking for ways to use rules to work around Democrats rather than bring them in," says Barry Burden, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison. "It's hard to see where this is going."
While Walker made it clear during his campaign that he would take on union power in Madison, many Wisconsinites have been taken aback by the scope and speed of the Republicans' proposal, says Mr. Burden. People "understand this is a major change, but to foist it on public employees so quickly seems not to respect the process," he says.
Despite that concern, Republicans enjoy a distinct advantage, says Mr. Baker at Rutgers, though that could change if the budget impasse stretches out and union supporters win more backing from the public.
"Unions come into these battles with built-in disadvantages where Republican governors can invoke the job-creating power of business and all the unions can come back with is, 'Well, we protect our members,' " he says. "It's a much weaker argument."
Compromise may be aided, however, by the fact that two deadlines are looming, perhaps enough to bring home the runaway Democrats: Friday is the deadline to restructure the state's debt, and next Tuesday the state's next biennial budget is rolled out. Staying away from that debate could cede too much power to Republicans and could become a major political liability for Democrats, analysts say.
"Public workers should be able to bargain collectively, and Walker would be wise to drop his attack on the practice and compromise" after the union offered benefits concessions, writes Mr. Rickert. "Similarly, public sector unions would be wise to admit that the current dispute is mostly, if not entirely, about money."