Unions Trying to Stop Wisc. House Vote
“We left the Capitol about 15 minutes after the vote under police protection because there was an angry mob and we were told to get out of Madison as quickly as possible.”
-- Wisconsin Republican state Sen. Glenn Grothman “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.”
It’s going to be a very ugly day in Wisconsin.
A crowd of 5,000 union protestors swarmed the state Capitol in Madison shattered windows and barricaded themselves inside amid calls for a “class war” after news got out that Senate Republicans had circumvented a Democratic blockade of a bill curbing state union power.
Authorities eventually gave in and allowed the mob to reoccupy the Capitol without resistance, setting the stage for a melee today as the state Assembly reconvenes to consider the Senate proposal.
Eyewitness accounts from Madison describe what can only be called a freak out after Senate Republicans voted to strip public employee unions of the power to collectively bargain.
Filmmaker Michale Moore was visibly shaken when he went on MSNBC to call every liberal and union activist within driving distance of Madison to join the protests.
“This is war. This is a class war that has been leveled against the working people of this country,” Moore told anchor Rachel Maddow.
Some labor leaders are calling for a day of unrest and want teachers to again walk off the job in protest of the move.
Senate Republicans employed the Krauthammer Option.
State Senate rules require 20 of 34 senators to be present to discuss fiscal issues, but not for non-budget business. So Republicans decided to split Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget repair bill into a part that deals with government union policies and the part that deals with expenditures.
Senate Democrats have been in hiding in Illinois for nearly three weeks in an effort to keep the legislation from advancing (a reminder: Indiana House Democrats also remain in hiding to block a school choice plan). The Wisconsin Senate Democrats swiftly denounced the Republicans’ breach of parliamentary protocol. Democrats said that the two-hour public meeting notice on the vote was inadequate despite approval from the nonpartisan clerk of the state Senate.
But it was not lost on local reporters that it was more than a little churlish for people who have been hiding in Illinois motels for nearly a month to block legislative action to be lecturing anyone about procedural niceties.
At the start of the week, Senate Democrats shot down a compromise proposal from Walker that would have preserved collective bargaining on pay, overtime and work rules. Negotiations broke down when Republicans refused to leave the state for face-to-face negotiations at the Democrats’ Days Inn stronghold.
Having delayed government worker layoffs, continued to pay the no-show Senators and held back daily fines for failing to appear in hopes that Democrats would soon return, Senate Republicans opted to plow ahead.
What today will bring is anyone’s guess. Union demonstrations are scheduled for 9 a.m. Central Time as the House comes into session. The protesters occupying the Capitol seem intent on disrupting the session to prevent final passage of the law.
The chaotic scenes of Thursday night will likely be outstripped today.
Senate Dems Revolt on Obama Spending Plan
“They want him to deliver us from this terrible dilemma, and I’m not sure that’s in his power at this point.”
The White House backed spending plan for the remainder of the fiscal year drew only 42 votes in the Democratic-controlled Senate as 11 members of the president’s party rebuffed his plan.
Obama lost six members because his cuts were too small -- Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; Kay Hagan, D-N.C.; Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.; Ben Nelson, D-Neb.; Mark Udall D-Colo.; Jim Webb, D-Va.; and Joe Manchin D-W.Va.
Four liberal members of the Democratic caucus – Sens. Herb Kohl, D-Wis.; Carl Levin, D-Mich.; Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. – voted against the Obama plan presumably because they oppose any cuts, even the .52 percent deficit trim backed by the administration.
Republicans lost three members on the House-passed plan that would reduce the projected $1.65 trillion deficit for the current federal fiscal year by less than 4 percent. Tea Party Caucus members Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Jim DeMint, R-S.C. and Mike Lee, R-Utah, said both plans were too timid in their cuts. Paul is backing a plan to reduce this year’s deficit nearly one third.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had worked hard to downplay the vote in advance, but the rebellion of a fifth of his caucus was an obvious sign that the road ahead would be rough. Senate leaders huddled with President Obama at the White House after the vote to plot a way forward with an eye on March 18, when current government funding expires.
Some in both houses have suggested that the way forward is through a series of two-week extensions including prorated cuts on $4 billion apiece to cover the final 28 weeks of the federal fiscal year.
Senate liberals and agency heads don’t like that plan, which they fear would have the double downsides of cutting and sewing uncertainty into the process. House conservatives dislike the piecemeal approach because it would make it harder to fully de-fund groups like Planned Parenthood.
By having to make the cuts in sequence, some programs might escape the ax until very late in the fiscal year.
Vice President Biden, the White House point man on the negotiations, is still traveling in Russia with his wife, Jill. When he returns, the Senate Democrats will fashion a new proposal in an effort to get to 60 votes.
The Democrats know that the four liberals who voted against the nominal cuts on Thursday are unlikely to go deeper. The plan, then, will need to pick up the eight other Democratic “no” votes and 10 Senate Republicans to pass. Rough stuff.
To get that many Republicans, Reid and Obama will likely have to at least go halfway to the Republican proposal for $57 billion in cuts for the remainder of the year.
Sebelius Spikes Entitlement Optimism
“In a system where millions of claims are paid each week, millions of claims would accumulate, which [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] and its contractors would be prohibited from paying at the Affordable Care Act rates.”
Fiscal hawks were positively bubbling with excitement over the ongoing meetings with a group of senators who are looking to enact long-term entitlement reforms proposed by President Obama’s debt commission.
The hawks crowed to the Wall Street Journal that they had the support of 30 of their fellow senators and interest from others still. The proposal calls for closing tax loopholes and a decades-long tightening of eligibility standards for Social Security and Medicare.
But without the blessing of the White House and the support of Majority Leader Harry Reid – who publicly holds that Social Security is solvent despite a $7 trillion liability – the measure will surely die.
Reid and Obama’s budget boss Jacob Lew are working to take Social Security out of the discussion, suggesting that to get the final support, the plan would have to be more about making changes to Medicare envisioned by President Obama’s national health-care law and increasing tax loopholes. A plan that is based on Obama’s health law and more tax revenue without entitlement reform would be dead on arrival in the House.
Even so, the six Senate hawks are determined to push their debt package, spurred on by news that worldwide investors have started dumping U.S. debt holdings on concerns of unsustainable spending rates. Those moves are the first step toward rising interest rates, a loss of liquidity in the American economy and the demise of the anemic current recovery.
But the hopes for progress that were raised when Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., tentatively lent his support to the bipartisan plan was wiped out when Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a warning to senior citizens that current Republican spending proposals could cost them their Medicare checks.
Sebelius, in an open letter to the Senate finance committee, suggested that the House Republican plan would cause Medicare to have to lay off workers and possibly delay claims. Under questioning, her deputies have allowed that the delay would relate to new Medicare disability claims, not the regular checks that go to seniors who paid into the project.
What’s more, the cuts are aimed at implementation of Obama’s health law, so any delays in services would result from the administration shifting resources to keep implementation going.
That Sebelius would use entitlement scare tactics with seniors on a 28-week spending bill reinforces the idea that the administration is far from ready to give up the preferred Democratic tool for beating Republicans.
Muslim Anger Over King Hearings Put Hill on Edge
“There is no equivalency of threat between al Qaeda and neo-Nazis, environmental extremists or other isolated madmen."
-- Prepared remarks by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., obtained by FOX News colleague Catherine Herridge.
Capitol Police are on alert today as Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. convenes his hearings on the radicalization of Muslim Americans.
King’s focus will be on the 161 American Muslims who have been charged with or deemed responsible for terrorist activities since Sept. 11.
Muslim activists and liberals are pointing today to the Justice Department’s arrest of a purported white supremacist for allegedly placing a bomb on the route of last month’s Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane, Wash.
The question, endlessly posed, is why King isn’t probing all extremism instead of just Muslim extremism? King’s answer is that today’s inquiry doesn’t preclude others and that the most pressing problem is the one currently plaguing Islam.
One Hill staffer who supports King’s activity told Power Play that she was using a vacation day to stay away from the Capitol today.
“If there is an attack -- God forbid -- I don’t want to be there,” she said. “And there will be lots of protestors and lots of hassles no matter what.”
And Now, A Word From Charles
“NPR has been an anachronism for 20 years. At a time when you had three networks it made sense -- you can argue you need a third outlet for British costume dramas. But now it's completely unnecessary, and if it is biased it doesn't have a chance at all.”