Battle of Wisconsin Shifts to Union Dues, Not Worker Rights

"We have repeatedly tried to get Senate Democrats to come home and continued to provide reasonable offers for their consideration."

-- Cullen Werwie, spokesman for Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wisc., talking to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Wisconsin Senate Democrats in hiding in Illinois broke off negotiations on changes to controversial state worker legislation when Republican leaders refused face-to-face negotiations out of state.

Say what you will about the fugitive lawmakers, it takes some real chutzpah to ask legislators to come meet you in Illinois to talk about governing Wisconsin.

While Democrats may fear that they will be dragged to the statehouse if they return to the state, the deeper fear seems to be the political consequences of crossing public worker unions.

Emails that detail the concessions offered by Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans in the legislature suggest that the state GOP is looking for a way out of the politically bruising struggle.

Like similar legislation in Ohio, the new offer from Walker would roll back, but not eliminate, the power of unions. After nearly three weeks of publicly refusing any compromise in the face of a barrage of Democratic and Union pressure in the media, the state GOP was looking for an out.

The major difference between Wisconsin and Ohio, where a bill is chugging along towards passage, is that Ohio Republicans made a deal quickly and quietly while Wisconsin Republicans were taken by surprise when their Democratic colleagues absconded and shut down the legislature and drew intense national focus to the standoff.

The new Republican proposal in Wisconsin would preserve collective bargaining authority for state worker unions on pay, work rules and other items, but eliminate the power of threatened strikes on health and retirement benefits.

The plan would leave in place increases to the now-nominal employee benefit contributions – a move that would have government workers pay about 12 percent of health insurance costs, less than half of the national average for workers.

But the sticking point seems to be around the part of Walker’s plan that would end mandatory union membership for state workers and having the government withhold union dues from their paychecks.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is thunderously denouncing the compromise, calling it an “illusion” and urging Democrats to stay away until Republicans cave in.

But with Walker and his fellow Republicans willing to compromise on central points, public pressure is again mounting on Senate Democrats to go back to work.

And it seemed that the stalemate was just about over. So optimistic about it were Walker & Co. that on Friday they declined to fine Democrats for missing work and opted to allow members of the fugitive caucus to receive their paychecks by direct deposit. Walker likely regrets that magnanimity now.

The Senate Democrats, though, have made a pact that all 14 of them will stand united in their refusal to work. The agreement for a majority decision, agreed to in the sweep of labor solidarity in the first days of what was believed to be a short flight in protest, now likely looks like a political suicide pact for members form swing districts.

For Democratic Sen. Jim Holperin, whose district voted 57 percent for Walker last year, the stakes are rather different than those for Sen. Spencer Coggs whose constituents gave Walker 13 percent of their votes last year.

Coggs and others from deep-blue districts have little concern about general election voters, but much to fear politically from union bosses who are concerned about a plan that would still deprive them of compulsory members and the state’s services as a dues collection agent.

Democrats say that the negotiations broke down because Republicans wouldn’t come to Illinois for negations in person, but the unions reaction to the details of the plan suggests that it was the dues money not the cheeky suggestion of out-of-state negotiations that did in the plan.

Walker’s decision to compromise will likely help him halt his slide in popular support. The Democrats decision to stay away in the face of concessions from the GOP will hurt them. And the growing perception of government workers as overweening will deepen if Democrats don’t stop holding the legislative process hostage.

A new Gallup survey suggests that Americans are divided on reducing the collective bargaining power of state unions – 49 percent favor the concept for their states and 45 percent are opposed.

But Americans are not so circumspect about firing workers. Sixty two percent said they would support reducing the number of state workers in order to balance the budgets in their states.

Reid Tries to Regroup on Spending

“Why are we doing all this when the most powerful person in these negotiations — our president — has failed to lead this debate or offer a serious proposal for spending and cuts that he would be willing to fight for?”

-- Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in a floor speech opposing spending plans put forward by his party and House Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is trying to shift the discussion away from dueling proposals to fund the government after the current spending plan expires in nine days.

The Senate delayed votes by a day on a House Republican plan to cut $57 billion from the final 28 weeks of the federal fiscal year and a White House-backed proposal put forward by Reid to cut $4.7 billion.

How the votes go on the Republican plan to cut the deficit by 3.7 percent and the Reid plan to cut the deficit by .52 percent will give Republican senators a good idea of where to find votes for a compromise cuts package – maybe something in the 2 percent range.

The votes were pushed into today, giving Reid a chance to try to reframe the discussion and minimize the significance of the votes. Reid and his lieutenant, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., are now suggesting that the Senate should broaden the discussion out from just discretionary spending to other parts of the budget, maybe even some tax, ahem, adjustments in order to trim the deficit.

A bipartisan group of six senators who served on Obama’s debt commission are working up a plan for long-term entitlement reform. Reid and Schumer aren’t part of that, but are trying to muddle the issues by talking about overlapping areas.

It also may help Reid build support for his effort to resist significant spending cuts. By showing moderate members of is caucus that he cares about debts and deficits he might be able to win some sympathy for he and Obama’s plan of six more months of stimulus-level spending.

One senator didn’t wait, vulnerable freshman Sen. Joe Manchin took to the floor to denounce a lack of leadership from President Obama on spending and to make clear that he found the Obama-Reid plan too puny and the House GOP plan too harsh.

He will likely have lost company when the votes come today.

However Reid reframes the debate, it seems increasingly unlikely that he will be able to whip his caucus into shape to pass a 28-week spending plan before the March 18 deadline.

That means that House Republicans may have the chance to try for another $4 billion in pro-rated cuts as part of a two-week emergency package.

Firestorm Gathers Ahead of Islam Hearings

"Whatever threat analysis police have done, they believe I warrant security. I don't ask for it and I certainly don't turn away any security that police think I should have. I leave it up to them."

-- Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., talking to reporters about threats he has received ahead of scheduled hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims.

Denunciations and death threats are flying ahead of hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y.

The hearings, set to convene Thursday will feature:

Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, who argues that Muslim clerics are helping thwart terror investigations

Abdirizak Bihi, whose nephew was recruited out of Minnesota and into a Somali terror group in the service of which he died in 2009

Melvin Bledsoe, whose son embraced Islam before allegedly attacking an Army recruiting center in Arkansas.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca whose department has instated a watch program for Muslim groups.

While it seems unlikely that anything will be said that hasn’t been said before, the allegations of “McCarthyism” and “racism” are flying against King for bringing the discussion into the halls of Congress.

But with 161 Muslim Americans charged with or deemed responsible for terrorist activities in the past decade, it seems that King has a strong argument to rebut the witch hunt claims against him.

California Loses its Political Place

“We looked nothing like the rest of the nation. We were a political island."

-- Thad Kousser, a political scientist at the University of California at San Diego, talking to the Washington Post about the 2010 election when Democrats swept statewide elections and held 34 of 53 House seats.

California will not gain a seat in Congress for the first time since the redrawing of districts following the1920 Census as population growth stagnated among Anglo residents.

In new Census numbers, California remained far and away the biggest state with 37 million residents – 12 million more than second-place Texas. But the state seems to be losing its political punch.

California has struggled badly to assimilate the exploding immigrant population and the new numbers show that the time for assimilation may be passed. There are now 14 million Hispanics in the state compared to 15 million non-Hispanic whites.

Among children, the trend is even starker. While Anglos make up 40 percent of the state’s population overall (a 5.4 percent reduction since 2000), fewer than a quarter of all Californians under the age of 18 are non-Hispanic whites.

The black population in the state also shrank to less than 6 percent and Asians surged to 13 percent.

Permissive immigration laws, a shattered economy and massive tax burdens are seen as causes for the shift that makes California an inviting destination for those in developing nations but an unattractive place to stay for better-educated and more affluent natives.

The result is that California, which was the political trendsetter in the previous century now looks to be a political anomaly. Many other states have blossoming Hispanic populations but nowhere is the pace of Hispanic growth and Anglo contraction so stark.

Republicans talk about competing more vigorously for Hispanic votes in Florida, Texas, New Mexico and Nevada, but as the 2010 results show, California seems to have moved out of contention for the GOP.

Republicans have struggled with new immigrants since the earliest days of the party when Irish newcomers flocked to big-city Democratic machines. But Republicans have an objective of winning 40 percent of Hispanic voters nationally and have shown promise in some states.

But in California, a core group of Anglo liberals and black voters mean that Democrats can win elections even if they under perform with Hispanics. And in elections where Democrats hold the Hispanic vote, as they did in 2010 when 64 percent of Hispanic voters came their way, they can trounce Republicans even when national trends are fantastic for the GOP.

While Democrats will increasingly be able to count on California’s 53 electoral votes and members of Congress, the Golden State’s unusual demographics and frightful fiscal situation suggest that Americans will no longer be looking west for political inspiration.

The significant trend to watch in California, though, will be the destruction of the old Democratic political order as Hispanics push out Anglo liberals who have held power for decades.

The end of the era of Reps. Henry Waxman and Nancy Pelosi seems at hand.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“Fifty bucks will either cover the bank overdraft or buy you dinner. It can't do both. If you try, you end up in jail. In Washington, if you try you end up in a congressional hearing and you get away with it.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier” explaining the allegations of double-counting Medicare cuts in President Obama’s national health-care law.