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Posted at 12:42 PM ET, 02/22/2011

Off the fence on Wisconsin

By Jonathan Capehart

The op-ed page today of The Post and David Brooks the New York Times -- not to mention the PostPartisan spirited tussle between Harold Meyerson and Chuck Lane -- highlight the quandary I've had about the doings in Madison, Wis. Both sides have legitimate points in this tussle. But Gov. Scott Walker's appearance on "Morning Joe" pulled me off the fence and into the corner of the Wisconsin workers protesting his move.

Leave aside the collective-bargaining piece for a second. Walker is not making an unreasonable demand that public-sector employees do what their private-sector counterparts have been doing for years: contribute to their pension and health-care plan. Richard Cohen does a good job cataloging the benefits outrage as it is playing out in New York with retiring public employees. But his conclusion also applies to Wisconsin. "Their former employer, it goes almost without saying, is steamed'" Cohen writes. "Their former employer is me." And David Brooks points out the flip side of Walker's maneuver. By sparing unions that traditionally back Republicans, the governor is not asking for shared sacrifice. "Make everybody hurt" is a good mantra for these cash-strapped times.

But Walker ain't much for spreading the pain. And he's not much for negotiating an end to the eight-day impasse. Listen to what he said on "Morning Joe" today.

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Walker flip:"[I]t's about the budget. Everything we're talking about is the budget."

Walker flop: "I'm not negotiating over a budget. The budget is broke.... I cannot negotiate for something where I don't have anything to give."

When asked how his actions are not an attempt to crush the union and what does collective bargaining have to do with deficits and spending, Walker said, "[I]t's about the budget. Everything we're talking about is the budget." He then touted the deal offered to the unions. That being a 5.8 percent contribution to their pensions and a 12.6 percent contribution to their health-care premiums. Seeking clarification, host Joe Scarborough asked if the reports were true that the unions had agreed to the deal, Walker said, "They've told the media that. They haven't told me that directly." To be fair, only two of the state's unions said they agreed to the governor's "5 and 12" deal.

But when pressed by Mike Barnicle on whether he had reached out to anyone from the unions to accept his deal directly, Walker said, "No." Barnicle asked, "Why?" What Walker said next is what pulled me off the fence. "Because I'm not negotiating over a budget," he said. "The budget is broke.... I cannot negotiate for something where I don't have anything to give."

In the space of a few minutes in one interview the governor went from saying "Everything we're talking about is the budget" to "I'm not negotiating over a budget." This plus his handy excuse that there is no statewide union with which to talk speaks volumes to me. Walker is not interested in talking to anyone. He simply wants to crush the public-service employee unions. New Jersey and New York are facing crushing budget and pension burdens. You don't hear their respective governors -- Chris Christie (R-N.J.) and Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) -- talking about chipping away at collective-bargaining rights to tackle their significant problems. They are tough-talking negotiators who are doing what they said they'd do. So is Walker, truth be told. He just conveniently left out the union busting.

By Jonathan Capehart  | February 22, 2011; 12:42 PM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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Comments

LOL A liberal hack writeer working for a liberal rag newspaper sides with the Unions. No story here, nothing to see, move along.

Why is it wrong to let the tax payer, who pays these Public union salaries have a say in how much of a raise they get? Why is it wrong to hold Public workers unions accountable for job performance and expect them to pay into their own benefits like the rest of the nations workforce.

Its not Union busting, its getting the parasites to stop draining the tax payers out of money we no longer have. Fire the teachers who have called out sick, and fire the 14 democrats who ran out of state ( on the taxpayers dime probably) to avoid doing their job.

Posted by: ConcernedAmerican10 | February 22, 2011 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Those two statements don't conflict with each other.

They're awkwardly worded, probably as a consequence of ad libbing while on tv, but it's relatively clear what Walker is saying. He is pursuing policies which he believes addresses issues with the budget but he's not willing to negotiate over these policies because he doesn't believe that negotiating will address inadequacies with the budget.

Posted by: Fitz157 | February 22, 2011 1:41 PM | Report abuse

It would save the State the most money by laying off all union workers and replacing them with SLAVES. Slaves have the lowest cost basis long term and would be working for less than 3 dollars an hour all in. The Governor could have this new Slave State up and running within a few months. Then declare bankruptcy and not pay any Bond holders and void all pensions. Yes this is the new America. Next all private workers could be replaced by Slaves, why not its the new America.

Posted by: henry15 | February 22, 2011 1:57 PM | Report abuse

it's become painfully obvious to everyone over the past several days that walker's moves have very little to do with the wisconsin budget - what he is trying to do is about politics and power. and those 19 republican reps standing defiantly behind him - not for what's best for wisconsin but instead for a petty beatdown of unions and democrats - better do some soul searching about their own impending unemployment if they pass this bill.

Posted by: ebproducer | February 22, 2011 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Johnathan,

If the Unions agreed to the 5 and 12 plan I am willing to bet the Governor would find another reason to gut the union.

If the unions are killing Wisconsin why aren't the police and firefighter unions effected by his budget repair act? Are they somehow different?

Posted by: mmcd1 | February 22, 2011 2:18 PM | Report abuse

mmcd -

i believe the police & firefighters supported walker in the governors race. hence, their union's exemption from this bill.

Posted by: ebproducer | February 22, 2011 2:26 PM | Report abuse

So most of the Unions ACTUALLY haven't agreed to the State 5 and 12 plan...

Capehart still thinks fire and police unions backed Republicans (only 4 of 300 did)...

Walker says he is "not negotiating over the budget"

and Capehart concludes Walker is crushing the Unions ?

Sloppy misinformed journolism... I mean ... Who thought Capehart was on the fence anyways ? : ) : )

Posted by: pvilso24 | February 22, 2011 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Capehart,
The two statements, as pointed out, are not in conflict. The first is meant to emphasize that the measures suggested, whether you support them or not, are driven by the need for meeting a "budget". The second suggests that the negotiations on the budget are complete, and were completed in the legislature. A govenor, for instance, does not change the budget allocations and amounts, based upon an "advocacy" group; especially after the legislation is complete.
The time for dispute was either before Mr. Walker was elected, or during the legislative process.
Whether one agrees or not with the terms, Mr. Walker is not being inconsistent.

Posted by: rnh_ogvc | February 22, 2011 2:38 PM | Report abuse

"getting the parasites to stop draining the tax payers out of money we no longer have".

Is ConcernedAmerican10 referring the oil companies and their huge subsidies or Defense contractors and their unnecessary programs?

Posted by: thebobbob | February 22, 2011 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Huh? How does Gov. Walker saying he has no room to negotiate over THE (not "a") budget suggest that he merely wants to crush public-sector unions?

But this is not the first time Mr. Capehart has distorted a quote in order to draw a non-sensical conclusion from it.

Posted by: Itzajob | February 22, 2011 5:36 PM | Report abuse

"Make everybody hurt" is hardly sound policy-- it is a race to the bottom.

Unfortunately, the GOP's fealty is to cuts, not Keynes, and most of our leaders appear to have forgotten that the immediate problem is new job creation, not fixing long-term deficits.

It's said that a rising tide lifts all boats. Right now. the tide is ebbing and we're grounding the boat on the beach. Then what?

Posted by: ANetliner | February 23, 2011 12:45 AM | Report abuse

Jonathan Capehart supports the Democratic Party and a major Democrat constituent group. Unsurprising and consistent.

That Capehart finds this the least bit worthy of mention makes me wonder about his sanity. Mr. Capehart, do you really not realize that you always support Democrats, Progressives, and Liberals against Republicans, Conservatives, and Tea Partyers?

Posted by: pilsener | February 23, 2011 1:12 AM | Report abuse

I could live with Walker's refusal to negotiate, had he ever mentioned during his very recent campaign for the office that he holds that he intended to remove the rights of state workers to collective bargaining, and if the Wisconsin Republicans had allowed the legislation to be the subject of open hearings and standard public policy political debate in the legislature.

To simply impose such a fundamental and sweeping change in workers' rights without warning, and without debate, is an monumental political error and an indefensible abuse of power. And it is increasingly costing popular support for Walker and for the Republican legislators who are tied to his sinking ship.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 23, 2011 2:36 PM | Report abuse

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