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Posted at 1:10 PM ET, 02/17/2011

Are the Wisconsin protests good for Republicans or Democrats?

By Rachel Weiner

Protestors outside the Wisconsin state capitol building on Wednesday. AP Photo by Andy Manis

For the past four days, thousands of public employees and their supporters have gathered in and around the Wisconsin state capitol to protest Republican Gov. Scott Walker's budget cuts.

Walker, who has only been governor for the past six weeks, is pushing a proposal that would eliminate collective bargaining rights for public workers and make them pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health care coverage. The changes amount to about a seven percent salary cut.

Democrats insist the move is a political power play and that Walker created the budget gap with his own tax cuts.

Republicans counter that voters asked for change when they kicked out Democrats in November. For months, they have been holding up public employees as prime examples of government waste.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) compared the situation to Egypt. "[Walker is] basically saying I want you public workers to pay half of what our private sector counter parts are, and he's getting riots," Ryan told MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

"Rather than shouting down those in office who speak honestly about the challenges we face, the president and his advisers should lead. Until they do, they are not focusing on jobs, and they are not listening to the American people who put them in power," said Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in a statement.

Public sentiment seemed to be on the side of those seeking to trim the sails of the federal workforce. Three-quarters of those who were surveyed in an October Washington Post poll said they believe federal workers get better pay and benefits than people doing similar jobs outside the government, and 52 percent said government employees are overpaid.

And, before this week, Democrats had been reluctant to defend their long-time allies in the public sector in a recognition that with tough economic times come tough funding decision.

Now, however, they're on the offensive. Liberal MSNBC host Ed Schultz will broadcast his show from Madison tonight. The Democratic National Committee is involved: they have been filling buses, organizing phone banks, and promoting the rallies through social media and email campaigns. President Obama said Walker's plans seem "like an assault on unions."

Democratic state legislators have skipped town to avoid a vote on the plan. Some Republicans are starting to wobble. "Out of respect for the institution of the Legislature and the democratic process, I am calling on Senate Democrats to show up to work today, debate
legislation and cast their vote," Walker said in a statement.

Still, the budget is expected to pass with most of Walker's reforms. Time will tell whether the general public -- inside Wisconsin and without -- sides with him or with the protesters.

What do you think? Who will emerge politically victorious from the Wisconsin standoff?

By Rachel Weiner  | February 17, 2011; 1:10 PM ET
Categories:  Governors  
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