Wonkbook: A rough Wednesday for Democrats, and other economic and policy news

By Ezra Klein
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 7:36 AM

Democrats did not have a good Wednesday. In Washington, both the Republican-backed bill to cut $60+ billion from the government's funding for 2011 and the Democratic-backed bill to cut $6 billion from the government's funding for 2011 failed. That was expected. What wasn't necessarily expected was that the Democratic bill would get few votes despite a Democratic Senate. But the Republican legislation went down 44-56, while the Democrats' proposal went down 42-58. That doesn't strengthen Harry Reid's hand going into the next set of negotiations.

Then Wisconsin happened (Wonkbook, by the way, has a special Wisconsin section today, so read on and you'll be fully caught up). The quorum requirement that Senate Democrats were denying Gov. Scott Walker only applies to laws that spend money. So Walker, in a move that had been rumored but was not expected to happen yesterday, cut out everything in the legislation that spends money and rammed the bill through the state Senate before most people even realized anything was happening.

The story isn't over in either case. In Washington, Sen. Chuck Schumer is leading the Democrats in an effort to widen the conversation from spending cuts focusing on non-discretionary defense to deficit reduction that looks at entitlement programs, tax expenditures, and more. That's a smart move with the potential to lead to much more deficit reduction than the Republicans are proposing, but over a longer timeframe and using a more balanced mix of policies. Republicans have not reacted positively, but if they would prefer limited spending cuts to actual efforts to reduce the deficit, let them say so. And in Wisconsin, Walker's action has supercharged the recall effort that's ongoing against eight of the state's Republican senators (not to mention interest in recalling the governor next year, when he's eligible for recall). So in both cases, there's a lengthy endgame yet to get through, Still, a bad Wednesday for the Democrats.

Before getting to the links, I want to take a moment to honor David Broder, who died yesterday. I didn't know Broder well, though he was unfailingly kind and gracious in every interaction we had. But to get a sense of what he meant to the profession and the people in it, read through the remembrances written by Robert Kaiser, Dan Balz, Chris Cillizza, Joe Klein, Lou Cannon, the editorial board and the readers of the Washington Post. He will be missed.


The Wisconsin Senate has passed a bill stripping public workers of bargaining rights, reports Michael Fletcher: "Senate Republicans abruptly passed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's plan to sharply curtail collective-bargaining rights for public employees Wednesday night, using a legislative maneuver to approve the measure without 14 Democratic senators who fled the state in an effort to block it. After stripping the bill of fiscal measures that require a 20-member quorum for action, the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate passed the collective-bargaining measure. Analysts say the legislation would cripple most of the state's public employee unions. On Thursday, the slimmed-down bill is expected to go to the GOP-run state Assembly, which has already passed another version of it."

Mike Tate, chairman of the Wisconsin Democrats responds: "Using tactics that trample on the traditions of our Legislature, the Republican leadership has betrayed our state. Republicans have rubber-stamped the desire of the Koch Brothers and their godshead Scott Walker to cripple Wisconsin's middle class and lower benefits and wages for every single wage-earner in our state. The vote does nothing to create jobs, does nothing to strengthen our state, and shows finally and utterly that this never was about anything but raw political power. We now put our total focus on recalling the eligible Republican senators who voted for this heinous bill. And we also begin counting the days remaining before Scott Walker is himself eligible for recall."

The bill threatens the existence of the union-dependent Wisconsin Democratic party, writes Eric Kleefeld: http://bit.ly/e3kZlM

Scott Walker defends his decision: "When Gov. Mitch Daniels repealed collective bargaining in Indiana six years ago, it helped government become more efficient and responsive. The average pay for Indiana state employees has actually increased, and high-performing employees are rewarded with pay increases or bonuses when they do something exceptional. Passing our budget-repair bill will help put similar reforms into place in Wisconsin. This will be good for the Badger State's hard-working taxpayers. It will also be good for state and local government employees who overwhelmingly want to do their jobs well. In Wisconsin, we can avoid the massive teacher layoffs that schools are facing across America. Our budget-repair bill is a commitment to the future so our children won't face even more dire consequences than we face today."

The bill's opponents are preparing their next move, reports David Dayen: "Legal challenges. There are going to be a number of legal challenges to this bill. It will not be implemented right away. There's the near-term challenge of how the bill got passed tonight. It was done in a way that may have violated open meetings laws, by not allowing 24 hours notice for a public meeting of the conference committee... General strike. Union leaders are reportedly discussing a general strike, and the mood of the protesters, who stormed the Capitol upon word of the bill, echoes that. You could see some kind of near-term labor walkout, at least in Madison and possibly throughout the state. Recalls. This will only energize progressives and labor to get the required signatures for recalls."

Unions won in the court of public opinion, writes Daniel Foster: "Big Labor logic has won the battle for the hearts and minds, not just of liberals, but of 'moderates' too. To hear all the talk of the 'rights' -- even 'civil rights'(!) -- that have been stripped from public sector workers in this bill by the 'far right wing' is to see Stockholm Syndrome on a massive scale. Call it Madison Syndrome -- the completely irrational belief among a large segment of this republic that their interests lie with public sector unions, whose very existence is predicated on decreasing the efficiency with which government services are provided by maximizing labor costs."

Even liberals can admire Scott Walker's tactical maneuvering, writes Matthew Yglesias: "You've sort of got to admire the gritty determination of the Wisconsin GOP...When it turned out that the public was actually sided with the unions and the Democrats, the CW quickly became that there would have to be some kind of compromise. But of course there never had to be a compromise...Not to draw an equivalence between a bad bill and a good one, but what it reminds me of is congressional Democrats after Scott Brown's election. The early CW was that somehow Democrats "had to" back down in the face of their unpopularity. But they didn't have to do anything. They believed as strongly in universal health care as the Wisconsin GOP believes in crushing labor unions. So they passed the damn bill."

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