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Gov. Scott Walker not backing down on Wisconsin union fight

For Wisconsin Gov. Walker, as well as the thousands of protesters camped out at the state Capitol, the battle over public employee unions – particularly the right to bargain collectively – is fundamental, almost visceral.

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At a Tea Party Patriots rally in Phoenix Saturday, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty accused Obama of “coddling out of control public employee unions.”

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“Wisconsin does not need a lecture from someone who has never balanced a budget in his life,” Pawlenty said. (It may have been a sign that Republican presidential hopefuls still haven’t decided how cozy to be with the tea party movement that the only other speaker with White House ambitions was Rep. Ron Paul.)

As a presidential candidate, Obama once said, “If American workers are being denied their rights to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I’ll walk on that picket line with you.”

But aside from a brief statement when the protest in Madison began two weeks ago – describing Walker’s plan as “an assault” on unions – Obama has not been drawn into the rhetorical fight over weakening public employee unions.

"The president is one of the greatest politicians in the history of the United States, and he's quiet because he understands that most Americans know that [cutting government employee costs] has to be done," Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Sunday on Meet the Press.

Obama stays out of the fight

But Obama’s not speaking up more on the issue does not mean others in his administration have been muzzled.

“The fight is on,” Labor Secretary Hilda Solis told the closing session of the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting Saturday.

“We know there’s room for shared sacrifice,” Solis said, referring to “our brothers and sisters in public employee unions.”

“But the governors of Wisconsin and Ohio aren’t just demanding that they tighten their belts, they’re demanding that they give up their uniquely American rights as workers.”

While private sector unions have seen membership drop to about 6 percent in recent years, more than one-third of public employees remain unionized. Experts and analysts debate whether this relates to state budget woes, but it’s a major target for many of the 29 Republican governors.

"There may have been a time, a century ago, where public employees were mistreated and vulnerable and underpaid,” Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said on Fox News Sunday. “If that was ever a problem, we have over-fixed it.”

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