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No End in Sight to Wisconsin Standoff Between Governor, Dems Over Anti-Union Spending Bill

The standoff between Wisconsin's Republican governor and the state Senate's minority Democrats shows no signs of ending soon, as both sides try to claim the high ground in a bitter feud over an anti-union budget bill that has thrust Madison into the national spotlight.

Facing the likely passage of a budget bill that would strip most public employees in the state of collective bargaining rights, the Democratic lawmakers fled the state and vowed to hunker down, blocking any action in the Legislature.

Gov. Scott Walker, who argues the measures are necessary to fix the state's fiscal problems, has called the Democrats' move a "stunt" while pressuring them Friday to "come home" and do their jobs.

Teachers and other union members have intensified the drama with massive rallies at the state capitol this week, drawing the attention and support of national union representatives and Democratic organizers.

Plenty is at stake. As it's written now, the bill would force public workers to pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health care coverage, changes that Walker says puts them more in line with the private sector. That measure is projected to save the state $300 million over the next two years, to tackle a budget shortfall that the governor says stands at $3.6 billion.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, called in the state police Friday to pick up the fugitive Democratic lawmakers because state law requires at least one member of each party to be present for the Senate to conduct its business.

Walker dispatched two state troopers to Democratic leader Mark Miller's home in Monona at the request of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. Senate Sergeant-At-Arms Ted Blazel said troopers knocked on Miller's door and rang his doorbell, but no one answered. 

The Wisconsin Constitution prohibits police from arresting state lawmakers while the Legislature is in session, except in cases of felonies, breaches of the peace or treason. Fitzgerald said he's not looking to have Miller arrested, but he wants to send a signal about the circumstances at the Capitol.

Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who is staying at a Chicago hotel, said that he and his 13 fellow Democrats could stay out of Wisconsin for days or even weeks. They have been missing from the Capitol since Thursday.

The Democrats gained a minor victory Friday when the Assembly, also controlled by Republicans, postponed a vote on the budget until next week.

Republicans have 57 seats in the Assembly but 58 lawmakers must be present in order for them to take up the bill that all 38 Democrats are united against. Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer of Manitowoc is the Assembly's lone independent and could be that 58th person Republicans need.

Ziegelbauer told The Associated Press that he wants to meet with Republican leaders to discuss a possible compromise but wouldn't elaborate.

President Obama joined the raging budget battle on Wednesday, accusing Walker of unleashing "an assault" on unions by pressing the cost-saving legislation.

"Some of what I've heard coming out of Wisconsin, where you're just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally seems like more of an assault on unions," Obama said in a White House interview with WTMJ-TV. "And I think it's very important for us to understand that public employees, they're our neighbors, they're our friends."

"I think everybody's got to make some adjustments, but I think it's also important to recognize that public employees make enormous contributions to our states and our citizens," he continued.

But Walker fired back on Friday.

"I think we're focused on balancing our budget. It would be wise for the president and others in Washington to focus on balancing their budget, which they're a long ways from doing," Walker told Fox News.

Walker said the demands on public employees are "modest" compared with those in the private sector, and are meant to prevent a shutdown, which could result in 6,000 state workers not getting paid.

"We're at a point of crisis," the governor said, adding that he would call out the National Guard if needed to keep state operations, including prisons, running.

Meanwhile, massive protests at the state Capitol entered a fourth day as demonstrators vowed to stay as long as was needed to get the concessions they want.

"Hell no, we won't go!" they chanted inside the Capitol as they banged on drums, sat cross-legged in the halls and waved signs comparing Walker to former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak.

Thousands of teachers have joined the protests by calling in sick, forcing school districts -- including the state's largest, in Milwaukee -- to cancel classes.

Republicans who swept into power in state capitols this year with promises to cut spending and bolster the business climate now are beginning to usher in a new era of labor relations that could result in the largest reduction of power in decades for public employee unions.

The confrontation in Wisconsin comes as organized labor is reeling from a steady loss of members in the private sector. The public sector, with about 7.6 million members, now account for the majority of workers on union rolls, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.