Published February 23, 2011
Dems Ratchet Up Government Shutdown Rhetoric as GOPers Ready Response
“[House Speaker John Boehner is] being misled and pushed around by his conservative freshmen who don't remember what happened in 1995, and not only don't fear a government shutdown, but they actually say they welcome one. Sarah Palin, leader of this right-wing group, said on Thursday, last Thursday, on Long Island that she wanted a government shutdown."
-- Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on a conference call with reporters
Democrats are daring Republicans to continue to press for deep cuts in federal spending with a potential government shutdown now just nine days away.
Agencies in the Obama administration are making ready for a government shutdown and congressional Democrats have responded to Republican calls for deep spending cuts with a proposal for no reductions and accusations that House Speaker John Boehner is a pawn of Sarah Palin.
It’s getting ugly.
Before anyone can get to the question of how to fund the government through the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30, Congress will first discuss a short-term spending plan to keep the lights on after March 4 when a stopgap spending plan from the previous Democratic congress runs out.
Senate Democrats offered their plan Tuesday for a one-month continuation of current stimulus-level appropriations. Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters that Democrats are in favor of continuing current rates instead of seeking the increases sought by President Obama.
House Republicans, though, know that their proposed $61 billion in cuts for the remaining seven months of the fiscal year shrink by $2.2 billion each week after March 4. They know Democrats are trying to run out the clock on cuts.
GOP leaders and staffers could be out as early as today with a counterproposal on short-term spending – which aides say is likely to be for two or three weeks and with pro-rated cuts in keeping with their larger proposal.
The tone on Capitol Hill suggests that finding a compromise will not be easy. The Democratic decision to propose no cuts and the taunts from Sen. Chuck Schumer and others that Speaker John Boehner is too weak to control his own caucus seem designed to provoke an acidic Republic response.
Remember that Democrats widely believe that a shutdown would work to their political advantage and help Obama’s effort to portray Republicans as immature and radical in advance of the 2012 elections.
Also remember that delaying the debate on the rest of the fiscal year until late March would put the spending fight on a collision course with Obama’s request to increase the current limit on federal debt from its $14.3 trillion level.
Public Union Fight Rages On
“In Wisconsin and Ohio, they have decided there can no longer be two classes of citizens: one that receives the rich health and pension benefits, and the rest who are left to pay for them.”
-- Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., in his annual budget address to the state legislature
The legislatures of two Midwestern states have been paralyzed by Democratic walkouts, and labor groups across the country have called for another day of protests on behalf of government employee unions.
Wisconsin Senate Democrats have been in hiding for a week in an effort to stop a vote on legislation that would decrease state workers’ benefits and bargaining power in future negotiations. Indiana House Democrats followed suit on Tuesday and fled the state in order to prevent a vote on legislation that would ban the practice of mandatory union membership in private businesses.
In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker addressed the state about his legislation, stressing the many privileges afforded to public workers in civil service and labor law, and urged Democrats to return to work.
Wisconsin Senate Democrats have been seeking to rebut growing public criticism of their walkout with interviews conducted with news outlets that agree to keep their hideouts secret in exchange for access. But, conservative bloggers say they have tracked the lawmakers to a motel just across the state line in Harvard, Ill., the first stop beyond the border on the main rail line to Chicago.
The Wisconsin House is now debating the bill, and seems likely to pass the measure today as protesters, who continue to arrive from around the nation, use bull horns, chants and drum circles to try to disrupt the process.
Walker has also warned that if Senate Democrats do not return to work to allow the passage of spending cuts, government layoffs will begin next week. Walker’s plan is designed to prevent layoffs by increasing the now-nominal benefit costs paid by government workers.
Meanwhile, government worker protests continue to spread.
Ohio’s capitol was the site of major demonstrations on Tuesday, while New Jersey seems to be a prime target for today.
In Ohio, government workers and labor union allies marched on the statehouse Tuesday while lawmakers held hearings on a budget proposal similar to the one in Wisconsin that began the national turmoil.
The Obama administration Tuesday continued an attempt to distance itself from the conflict.
The president, speaking on behalf of his green energy and infrastructure stimulus proposal in Cleveland, made no mention of the mass protest going on in Columbus and his advisers stressed the localized nature of the disputes in interviews.
Obama came out early in support of the government workers and labor activists from around the country still besieging the Wisconsin statehouse and his campaign organization played a key role in organizing the ongoing protests.
While the president is reliant on government union support for his 2012 campaign, the roiling national debate over the role of public worker unions could prove damaging to his effort to adopt a moderate posture ahead of campaign season. Protests erupted in other swing states Tuesday, including Colorado where Tea Party groups and government labor unions clashed outside the state capitol.
But all eyes are on New Jersey today, as the Republican governor who has led the get-tough-on-public-unions approach that has become so popular in his party, defends a budget proposal that was met with howls by public-sector unions.
Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., has proposed a budget that offers a direct trade off between taxes and government union benefits.
Christie’s plan offers to double the size of a property tax credit for seniors and families making less than $75,000 in the Garden State, which suffers under the highest property tax burden in the nation, if government workers are made to pay 30 percent of their health-care costs (about the national average for workers) by 2014.
The average government employee contribution for health insurance in New Jersey is currently 8 percent, and Christie’s proposal was greeted with outrage among the state’s large labor community.
Most New Jersey government union contracts are set to expire in June, the same time that the state is due to complete its budget. Property tax rates, which climbed another 3 percent last year, were a big part of Christie’s successful 2009 campaign and are at the heart of electoral unrest in Democrat-dominated New Jersey.
Daniels Ditches Labor Fight, Casts Doubt on 2012 Status
“The activities of today are a perfectly legitimate part of the process. Even the smallest minority — and that’s what we’ve heard from the last couple days — has every right to express the strength of its views. And I salute those who did.”
-- Gov. Mitch Daniels, R-Ind., talking to reporters
The presidential potential of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels took a serious blow Tuesday when he sided with Democrats and unions against a proposed labor law.
Daniels, whose star had been on the rise in GOP circles since his keynote speech at the Conservative Political Action Convention in Washington earlier this month, shocked Republicans Tuesday when he excused Democratic lawmakers who fled the state to prevent a vote on a “right to work” labor law and urged the members of his party to drop the legislation.
Daniels has repeatedly insisted that he would rather focus on other legislative priorities in his final two years in office, including the former Bush budget boss’ plan to change government financial practices and a proposal for private school vouchers.
While Daniels maintained that the right to work law would be good for the Hoosier state’s economy, he remained insistent that this was not the year to take up the divisive issue. There are 22 states that currently have such laws which forbid making union membership mandatory at workplaces, except in the cases of skilled trades with apprenticeship programs.
Indiana House Democrats were still in the process of fleeing the state in an effort to deny the 60-member Republican majority in the 100-seat chamber the two-thirds attendance needed to hold a vote when Daniels laughed off the suggestion that he would dispatch state police to round up a quorum and suggested that the Democrats’ “consciences will bring them back to work.”
A Daniels adviser told Power Play that the governor was talking about the union protesters who were at the state capitol when he offered a “salute” for a minority expressing its views, but he seemed to be discussing the general chaos of the day, including the Democrats going into hiding.
Daniels had already alienated many social conservatives in the GOP base with his calls for a “truce” on social issues while the nation gets its fiscal house in order. But his tough stances on fiscal issues had won him many admirers on the right. Daniels’ decision to buck the national GOP trend of taking on big labor will cost him some of that support.
Republicans are currently very excited by the get-tough approach of governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Scott Walker in Wisconsin. Sidestepping the current controversy may help him get bipartisan support for the rest of his state-level agenda, but may do him in with the national GOP base.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“Right now, very short of a military action is a simple condemnation: the elementary decency of the United States expressing -- the president expressing -- the feeling that Americans condemn the [Libyan] government openly and without this kind of talking around the issue that the secretary of state had done.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier” discussing the muted response of the Obama administration to the brutal, ongoing effort by Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi to crush dissent in his country.