While Wisconsin Democrats abandon the state in order to protest proposed cuts to collective bargaining rights for state employees, Indiana Democrats have left the state to make demands from hot tubs, Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels said Sunday, blasting the group for fleeing their responsibilities.
Daniels said he was okay with Democrats rejecting a right-to-work bill that would have prevented union shops from setting up in the private sector, but those same Democrats are now hanging out in Illinois refusing to negotiate on 11 other bills they don't like
"They ran off to Illinois ostensibly over the right-to-work bill. But as soon as they got what they wanted there, they issued an ultimatum from a hot tub over there with about 10 more items.
This is to tell you how reactionary Indiana Democrats are. The first four items they want killed are President Obama's race to the top agenda," Daniels said on "Fox News Sunday."
Daniels said he is "keeping the option open" on whether he will run for president, but he's still considering whether he has set some good examples in his state that would raise the conversation in the national arena. He added that while he's considering an April deadline to make a decision, he has to deal with the situation at home first.
"I'm giving my full attention to the duty, the job I hired on for, and I hope that we -- that our Democrats get out of the hot tub, will go back to work, will finish at the end of April. But if they don't, I'll still be there, and so will they, eventually because that's the -- that's my duty. If it means that deadlines pass, it does," he said.
Daniels opposed initiating the right-to-work bill that has driven Democrats away, he said, because he suspected it was not the right time and the minority party would use it to try to subvert his agenda.
But even removing the issue from the table hasn't drawn Democrats home, leaving the state's budget and other matters in limbo.
"It is one thing for the people in the private sector to express their point of view as our protesters did. It is quite another for public servants accepting a public paycheck, having lost an election to a very clear agenda, to try to trash the process, run off to a different state and hide out," he said.
"If they come back, we will talk about what sort of changes or amendments they might want, but while they are subverting the democratic process, there is nothing to talk about," Daniels added.
The Indiana governor already discarded -- by executive order -- public union collective bargaining rights when he took office six years ago. Even so, he said, Indiana teachers -- who are part of government unions -- are among the best paid in America -- earning on average 22 percent more than the taxpayers who pay their salary and working with "near total job security" in the last recession.
Daniels said he would prefer performance-based pay increases for teachers, even if it means upping their current salaries even more.
"I think that is absolutely fine. In fact, one of the bills our Democrats want us to kill would allow us to pay the best teachers more, which is something I'd really like to do," he said.
When Daniels entered office, he balanced his state's budget, going from inheriting a $600 million deficit and turning it into a $370 million surplus the next year. Last fiscal year, the state reserve fund had $830 million. Daniels said part of that turnaround is through ending a vicious cycle in which public sector unions use "gillions of dollars in dues" to pay politicians to "sweeten the pot."
It's "an unending circle, and that's a bad idea," he said
But as a former budget chief to President George W. Bush, Daniels said he should not be blamed for the turnaround in the federal government's budget, which began with a $236 billion annual surplus in 2001 but accumulated a $400 billion deficit just two and a half years later. At the same time, the president launched a Medicare prescription drug benefit plan that now costs $60 billion a year.
"It was recession, two wars and a terrorist attack that led to a whole new category called Homeland Security. So nobody was less happy than I to see the surplus go away, but it was going away no matter who was the president," Daniels said.
As for impending debts facing the federal government, Daniels said he would "bifurcate" Social Security so that those near retirement face no changes, but young people get a "new compact" that could include means testing.
Medicare could also be divided in a similar way, and young people could earn private vouchers to choose their own plans.
"We ought to trust them to make more of their own decisions. You could, again, concentrate the resources on the poorest people, and also in this case the least healthy people, people who are better off.," he said. "We cannot afford in an aging society to pay for the most expensive technology for every single person regardless of income to the very, very last day."
Daniels added that he is not guilty -- as conservative critics suggest -- of suggesting that social conservatives call a truce on issues like traditional marriage and abortion. But, he said, "tactically" the economy is the largest "mortal risk" to America and that means unifying Americans with disparate views on other matters.
"Tackling these problems that we're talking about is supposed to be politically undoable. Well, if we're going to do the undoable, we're going to need to gather ourselves together as a nation, and that will, by definition, mean that there'll have to be some folks in that coalition who do disagree about other things."