Republican Overreach?

Being an international relations person, my focus has been on Egypt, Libya and the price of oil for the last few weeks.  I’ve noticed domestic politics out the corner of my eye, the protests in Wisconsin, and a push to eliminate or curtail collective bargaining rights for public unions.  Although being a member of a public labor union (AFUM, associated with MEA/NEA) and a campus local President, I’m not yet emotionally engaged in the issue, and I think just as the Democratic push in 2009 caused a swing the Republicans last year, the GOP is set to help the Democrats out with an overreach of their own.

The narrative reads good for Democrats.  A Wisconsin governor says there is a budget crisis and the state is broke.  There are budget issues, but the state isn’t broke — and its Republican policies that helped cause the short fall.   However, blame is placed on public unions — teachers, snow plow drivers, state workers — and because they won’t allow cuts to their benefits and pay thanks to tough union contracts, the unions must be defanged to save the budget.

But, they are willing to make cuts.   They and the Democrats will agree to the budget absent the language sharply curtailing their collective bargaining rights (saying unions can only negotiate raises up to a cost of living increase, cannot negotiate benefits).   In short, the GOP could claim victory in Wisconsin at a low political price — the unions caved and Scott Walker could at this point have presided over winning a huge budget battle.

But he didn’t.  It wasn’t really about the budget, it was about going after unions.   Public unions give a lot of support to Democrats, and if they could be cut to size (Walker compares it to the air traffic controller strike when Reagan broke PATCO) then presumably the Democrats would lose money and support.  Republicans retort that the whole controversy is a sham, created by the fact the Democrats left the state and aren’t doing their job!  Of course in 1840s none other than Abraham Lincoln leaped out of the capital building in Springfield, IL to prevent there from being a quorum.   And Lincoln is revered by Republicans as having been the first Republican President.

Politically, the issue is energizing Democratic constituencies across the country, and as Obama does things like refusing to defend DOMA which the DOJ has deemed unconstitutional (they’ll still enforce it, just not defend it in court) and sides with Labor in a very emotional and visible stand off, the fear that Obama’s base won’t be motivated in 2012 is slipping away.  Nothing like a Scott Walker like character (with provocative quotes from a prank call even) to energize the base.

The Democrats also have to be pleased with another emerging story line.   The Democrats blame Wall Street, big money, big banks, and the wealthy for the problem, and want them to pay just a little more tax dollars to help the budget come into balance.   This alongside a plethora of growing publicity to the increasing size of the gap between rich and poor, with the middle class disappearing, works to the Democrats favor.  Now when the Republicans charge them with “class warfare,” they’ll point to the war being waged on teachers, and a host of public employees, many with tough blue collar job.  Which war is more just?   Attack the teachers but protect the rich?

As Republican Governors go on record cutting benefits and reducing regulations protecting the environment and consumer rights, while the House of Representatives has to make concrete budget cutting suggestions, the Democrats will have a lot of ammo to use against the Republicans in 2012.   Probably not enough to take back the House or have the kind of year the GOP had in 2010, but probably enough to hold the Senate and allow President Obama to win a second term.   The political winds are shifting again, and the way it feels is much like it did in 2009 when the GOP base started to get angry about Obama.

The economy is the wild card, of course.  If current trends for job growth and reduction in unemployment continue, things will look very good for the Democrats in 2012.  If high oil prices cause another recessionary dip, President Obama will have a real fight on his hands to win re-election.

I will post more soon about the role of public unions, and call on my own experience as a guide.  For now, however, as I focus on Libya and throw quick glances towards Wisconsin, I’m sensing a counter-tea party brewing.    The electorate in 2012 will be browner, more Democratic, younger and more diverse than it was in 2010.   The Democrats took their lumps in 2010 and will have to deal with the consequences of losing big for the next two years.    Some of these consequences may be far reaching.   But one consequence may be to help the Democrats politically in the 2012 elections.

UPDATE: Rasmussen, a polling agency usually with a slight GOP/conservative tilt, finds Scott Walker in trouble in Wisconsin, with over 60% disapproving of his job performance.  This is a strong sign that even if he wins this battle, he is likely to lose the war.

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  1. #1 by pino on March 7, 2011 - 03:24

    They and the Democrats will agree to the budget absent the language sharply curtailing their collective bargaining rights (saying unions can only negotiate raises up to a cost of living increase, cannot negotiate benefits). In short, the GOP could claim victory in Wisconsin at a low political price — the unions caved and Scott Walker could at this point have presided over winning a huge budget battle.

    The problem is, however, that it is those collective bargaining rights that put the state in the position it’s in now. BECAUSE collective bargaining exists we have these deficits.

    This is a strong sign that even if he wins this battle, he is likely to lose the war.

    I agree the polling is showing diminished support. However, I hope that this battle is taking place early enough in his tenure as to render it less meaningful than the positive results will show in 4 years.
    Politically, the issue is energizing Democratic constituencies across the country

    I think you have a valid end-game point. However, even if Wisconsin never happened, those people would be the ones Obama would have energized anyway. I don’t see this issue as mobilizing otherwise immobile people.

    • #2 by Scott Erb on March 7, 2011 - 03:38

      Pino, I have not seen any evidence that public unions have caused the crisis in Wisconsin. I’d really need to see evidence on this. Moreover, if negotiated settlements in the past were too generous because the state was blinded by the pre-2008 belief that the economy was going onward and upward, then the solution is to negotiate a decrease. Walker did this by threatening the unions — harsh tactics, but it shows where the ultimately power lies, with the state. The unions agreed, so why try to stick it to them in a manner which appears mean spirited and vindictive? That’s why so many people are turning against Walker — many who agree with his budget cuts can’t understand this effort to really stick it to teachers, snow plow drivers, and other state workers who really don’t earn that much. Remember when Republicans were arguing against letting tax cuts expire on people earning over $250,000 a year and defending Wall Street and bankers? Really? Teachers and state workers are the problem? I guess I find that hard to believe without significant evidence.

      • #3 by pino on March 7, 2011 - 05:15

        Pino, I have not seen any evidence that public unions have caused the crisis in Wisconsin. I’d really need to see evidence on this.

        Hi Scott,

        First, do you agree that there IS a crisis in Wisconsin?

        The unions agreed, so why try to stick it to them in a manner which appears mean spirited and vindictive?

        Because there is nothing to stop the unions from doing it again.

        many who agree with his budget cuts can’t understand this effort to really stick it to teachers, snow plow drivers, and other state workers who really don’t earn that much.

        I don’t think that’s true. Most people polled feel that public sector employees make too much. What they want is a compromise. They don’t want either the union or Walker to demand too much.

        Remember when Republicans were arguing against letting tax cuts expire on people earning over $250,000 a year and defending Wall Street and bankers? Really? Teachers and state workers are the problem?

        Its hard to argue that people making $250,000 a year are causing states to go bankrupt. The tax payer doesn’t supplement that salary. However, the same is not true for public sector union employees.

        I guess I find that hard to believe without significant evidence.

        I am struggling to identify the form such evidence would have to take for you to believe it.

      • #4 by classicliberal2 on March 9, 2011 - 19:39

        The assertion that the unions are responsible for Wisconsin’s minor budgetary woes is a flat-out lie. The shortfall is due to several unrelated factors, the biggest being projected Medicaid expenses. In the face of this, Walker began his administration by initiating a series of fiscally ruinous policies, including huge tax-cuts for the rich, and for big business. The projected shortfall as a consequence of the tax cuts alone is over $100 million in their first year. To put that in context, the very unlikely-to-materialize worst-case-scenario projections for total budget shortfall in that time is $336 million.

        At the beginning of this fight, the public sector unions in Wisconsin agreed to make all the concessions Walker suggested, and that remains on the table to this day. Walker refused to take “yes” for an answer, because what he’s been doing isn’t about the budget–it’s simply about union-busting.

  2. #5 by Scott Erb on March 7, 2011 - 14:00

    A compromise is already there — the unions give in on demands, and the Governor doesn’t get vindictive and try to diminish them. You know that when Democrats get back into power in Wisconsin they’ll undo what Walker does. By over-reaching, he strengthens the Democrats position.

    You still haven’t given any reason to think public unions caused a crisis (I don’t think Wisconsin is truly in crisis), or why public workers should bear the cost rather than the wealthy. But here are some sites you can check:
    http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2011/mar/04/rand-paul/us-sen-rand-paul-says-average-public-school-teache/
    http://filterednews.wordpress.com/2011/03/05/20-lies-and-counting-told-by-gov-walker/
    http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2011/mar/03/scott-walker/wisconsin-gov-scott-walker-says-wisconsin-broke/
    http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/117438043.html
    http://blogs.forbes.com/rickungar/2011/02/25/the-wisconsin-lie-exposed-taxpayers-actually-contribute-nothing-to-public-employee-pensions/
    http://shankerblog.org/?p=1850

    I can post more — but the bottom line is that the unions are making concessions. That proves they will do so if necessary. So saying they’ll ask for more again is not a logical argument — and again, putting the burden of the economic problems on relatively low paid workers while protecting the wealthy, that looks like class war!

  3. #6 by Scott Erb on March 7, 2011 - 15:48

    Pino, you might also find this interesting — it could be that state worker overpay is a myth;
    http://new.bangordailynews.com/2011/03/06/opinion/state-salaries-benefits-not-so-lavish-compared-to-private-sector/

    I really think the idea that public employees are overpaid is a myth — and a weird way of demonizing the pay of middle class folk while the wealthiest get wealthier. I’m open to contrary evidence, but what I’ve seen doesn’t support the idea that public unions have been unfair. But I’ll read evidence to the contrary and keep an open mind.

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