Kris Maher and Amy Merrick at WSJ:
Playing a game of political chicken, Democratic senators who fled Wisconsin to stymie restrictions on public-employee unions said Sunday they planned to come back from exile soon, betting that even though their return will allow the bill to pass, the curbs are so unpopular they’ll taint the state’s Republican governor and legislators.
The Republicans rejected the idea that the legislation would hurt the GOP. “If you think this is a bad bill for Republicans, why didn’t you stand up in the chamber and debate us about it three weeks ago?” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. “People think it’s absolutely ridiculous that these 14 senators have not been in Wisconsin for three weeks.”
The Wisconsin standoff, which drew thousands of demonstrators to occupy the capitol in Madison for days at a time, has come to highlight efforts in other states to address budget problems in part by limiting the powers and benefits accorded public-sector unions.
Sen. Mark Miller said he and his fellow Democrats intend to let the full Senate vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget-repair” bill, which includes the proposed limits on public unions’ collective-bargaining rights. The bill, which had been blocked because the missing Democrats were needed for the Senate to have enough members present to vote on it, is expected to pass the Republican-controlled chamber.
Eric Kleefeld at Talking Points Memo:
A return to Wisconsin at this juncture would appear to give the green light for Walker’s legislation to pass — that is, a win for Walker’s efforts to pass legislation when numerous polls show the state disapproving of Walker, and saying he should compromise. However, at this juncture it is unclear just what is going on.
In response, Miller spokesman Mike Browne released this statement, saying only that they were continuing to negotiate towards an outcome that does not strip the bargaining rights of state workers:
“It is true that negotiations were dealt a setback since last Thursday when Governor Walker responded to a sincere Democratic compromise offer with a press conference. However, Senate Democrats have continued to reach out to the Governor and Republicans through the weekend.
Democrats remain hopeful that Governor Walker and legislative Republicans will, in the near future, listen to the overwhelming majority of Wisconsinites who believe they should come to the negotiating table in good faith to reach an agreement that resolves our fiscal issues without taking away worker rights and without hurting programs that help provide health insurance for working families and prescription drugs for seniors.”
In addition, state Sen. Chris Larson released this statement:
Sen. Miller’s comments are taken out of context in the Wall Street Journal article just released. Dems will return when collective bargaining is off the table. That could be soon based on the growing public opposition to the bill and the recall efforts against Republicans. Unfortunately, the WSJ fished for the quote they wanted, skipping this key step in logic: we won’t come back until worker’s rights are preserved.
State Sen. Jon Erpenbach also told WisPolitics that Democrats are not planning to return. State Sen. Bob Jauch, who has been one of the lead negotiators, also said of Miller’s comments: “I think he’s speaking the truth that at some point – and I don’t know when soon is – at some point we have to say we’ve done all we can.”
Christian Schneider at The Corner:
The Wisconsin politerati is all atwitter today at a WSJ report indicating that senate Democrats might soon end their Illinois exile. In the article, Democratic senate leader Mark Miller says recent polls show Walker’s budget-repair bill to be politically “disastrous” for the governor, which he says will give Democrats more leverage to negotiate portions of the larger budget bill in the weeks to come.
If this is what Miller thinks, it seems like a suspect strategy — a variation on the rarely seen Let’s capitulate to our opponent because the public currently doesn’t like what he’s doing plan. How many congressional Republicans rooted for Obamacare because they thought it would show the public once and for all how unpopular government health care could be? What if Green Bay Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers said in an interview before the Super Bowl, “Maybe it won’t be so bad if the Steelers win — imagine how sick of Ben Roethlisberger the public will be”? It sounds like Mark Miller, in today’s parlance, has convinced himself that he’s “winning.”
Perhaps Miller’s quote was a trial balloon, meant to gauge the opposition he’ll get from his base, which has spent three weeks screaming itself hoarse on the steps of the state capitol. It would be reasonable to expect some displeasure: If Democrats do return and vote on the bill without any changes — as they had indicated they would never do — cops, firefighters, and teachers are likely to ask, “Why did I just spend three weeks in the capitol pressed up against a hippie?” Indeed, within hours of the story being published, Miller was rebuffed by some members of his own caucus.
On the other hand, it is possible that Scott Walker really has waited them out. (On his last physical, does it say “Blood Type: Tiger”?) In the past three weeks, Democrats and public-sector unions (but I repeat myself) have thrown everything they have at Walker, and he hasn’t budged. (And I do mean everything: They even tried to embarrass him by exposing the fact that in high school he had a mullet and was nicknamed “the Desperado” — unaware that in Wisconsin, this is likely to increase his approval rating.)
It seems a little short-sighted for senate Democrats to believe Walker has damaged himself irreparably. Several polls show Walker’s approval rating to be in the low 40’s, but Walker almost certainly expected to take some kind of public-relations hit when he entered this standoff.
Moe Lane at Redstate:
You see, we tend to forget that politicians are not identical, like potatoes: these fourteen men and women are just that – men and women – and it’s easy to believe that they’re getting tired, sore, and fuming about how they’ve somehow become the surrogate whipping boys for a national debate on public sector unions. Some of them might even be thinking that they didn’t actually sign up for this, that this wasn’t in the job description, and that the people urging them to exile in Illinois might not really give a tinker’s dam about them or their problems. And that this situation that they’re in is getting old. Oh, sure, no doubt a few of the AWOL senators are having a ball… but some of them are not, and the loss of message discipline in the last few days shows that.
And it only takes one AWOL senators to end this nonsense.
Scott Johnson at Powerline
Jason Stein at The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
The leader of Senate Democrats hiding out in Illinois is seeking a face-to-face meeting with Gov. Scott Walker and the Senate GOP leader.
Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona) said in a letter sent out Monday that he wants to meet with Republicans “near the Wisconsin-Illinois border to formally resume serious discussions” on Walker’s budget repair bill. Two other Democratic senators met with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) last week in Kenosha.
Democrats have been holed up south of the state line since last month to block action on Walker’s budget repair bill, which would end most collective bargaining for public employee unions in the state.
“I assure you that Democratic state senators, despite our differences and the vigorous debate we have had, remain ready and willing to find a reasonable compromise,” Miller said in the letter.
Neither Miller nor Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie could be reached immediately for further comment. Fitzgerald spokesman Andrew Welhouse had no immediate comment.
The Wall Street Journal spurred hopes of compromise Sunday with a story citing Miller and saying the Democrats would be back “soon.” But that same night Democrats knocked that down, saying that they hoped to return soon but that there was still no development to make that happen.
Miller spokesman Mike Browne said Monday morning that he knew of no plans for Democrats to return later in the day. The senators were scheduled to meet later in the morning or early afternoon, he said.
One of the Democratic senators, Tim Cullen of Janesville, said in a phone interview Sunday that there were no developments toward a possible compromise with Republicans and no talks scheduled for this week.
Two other Democratic senators — Jon Erpenbach of Middleton and Chris Larson of Milwaukee — said Sunday their group had no plans to come back to the Capitol until Republicans addressed more of their concerns with the budget-repair bill.
“I can tell you for a fact that nothing has changed down here,” Erpenbach said.
On Monday morning, a small, dedicated group began to chant in protest of Walker’s budget-repair bill in the Capitol rotunda.
Outside the Capitol, there is little or no sign of the mass protests that have engulfed the Capitol square in recent weeks.
On the streets surrounding the Capitol, the number of satellite trucks has dwindled to two. And the only sign of an organized-labor presence is the sight of two Teamsters semi-trailers.