Ginned Up Wisconsin ‘Budget Crisis’ Is The Gulf Of Tonkin In The GOP’s War On The Middle Class

TALKING POINTS MEMO: Wisconsin’s new Republican governor has framed his assault on public worker’s collective bargaining rights as a needed measure of fiscal austerity during tough times. The reality is radically different. Unlike true austerity measures — service rollbacks, furloughs, and other temporary measures that cause pain but save money — rolling back worker’s bargaining rights by itself saves almost nothing on its own. bush_tax_cuts.jpgBut Walker’s doing it anyhow, to knock down a barrier and allow him to cut state employee benefits immediately. Furthermore, this broadside comes less than a month after the state’s fiscal bureau — the Wisconsin equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office — concluded that Wisconsin isn’t even in need of austerity measures, and could conclude the fiscal year with a surplus. In fact, they say that the current budget shortfall is a direct result of tax cut policies Walker enacted in his first days in office. MORE

RELATED: Walker defended his proposal at a news conference in Madison, as demonstrators watching a live feed in the Capitol chanted, “Re-call Wal-ker!” “These are bold political moves we are talking about today, but they’re modest, modest requests,” Walker said, calling for Democrats to end their “stunt” and return to work. “What we’re talking about here is ultimately about balancing our budget.” But observers said Walker’s proposals went beyond immediate cost savings. “What’s going on in Wisconsin is not simply an attempt to adjust the benefits or co-pays or health plans,” said Theda Skocpol, a political science professor at Harvard University. “It’s an attempt to bust the unions.” MORE

RELATED: Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker, whose bill to kill collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions has caused an uproar among state employees, might not be where he is today without the Koch brothers. Charles and David Koch are conservative titans of industry who have infamously used their vast wealth to undermine President Obama and fight legislation they detest, such as the cap-and-trade climate bill, the health care reform act, and the economic stimulus package. For years, the billionaires have made extensive political donations to Republican candidates across the country and have provided millions of dollars to astroturf right-wing organizations. Koch Industries’ political action committee has doled out more than $2.6 million to candidates. And one prominent beneficiary of the Koch brothers’ largess is Scott Walker. According to bush_tax_cuts.jpgWisconsin campaign finance filings, Walker’s gubernatorial campaign received $43,000 from the Koch Industries PAC during the 2010 election. That donation was his campaign’s second-highest, behind $43,125 in contributions from housing and realtor groups in Wisconsin. The Koch’s PAC also helped Walker via a familiar and much-used politicial maneuver designed to allow donors to skirt campaign finance limits. The PAC gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn spent $65,000 on independent expenditures to support Walker. The RGA also spent a whopping $3.4 million on TV ads and mailers attacking Walker’s opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Walker ended up beating Barrett by 5 points. The Koch money, no doubt, helped greatly. MORE

RELATED: In terms of substance, it is hard to know where to begin. Walker’s “Repair the Budget” bill is primarily a union-busting measure, many of whose provisions have no fiscal consequences at all. The bill requires public employees to make contributions to pensions and the costs of health care, but union representatives insist that they have no objections to those provisions. They insist that what they care about is the curtailing of collective bargaining rights. But maybe they should read the bill again: the entire salary grid for teachers would be thrown out, and school districts would be free to define and implement new salary systems from scratch. That’s in addition to giving the administration unprecedented authority to redefine Medicaid eligibility (but only downward), and enough other material to fill 144 pages. MORE

RELATED: Debate in the State Senate over Wisconsin’s controversial bill to cut collective bargaining rights for public workers ended, at least temporarily, on Thursday morning before it began. As the session was due to begin, Democrats failed to appear in the chamber, leaving the body without a quorum and leading the Republicans to send capitol officials in search of the Democrats. If none of the lawmakers were found in the building, the Wisconsin State Patrol would be assigned to begin searching for them elsewhere, said a Senate official. Inside the Capitol, speculation bush_tax_cuts.jpgswirled: Were the Democrats together somewhere, maybe even in another state by now? The presumed reason for their disappearance is that Democrats — and thousands of teachers, state workers and students — vigorously oppose the Republican-backed bill that would sharply curtail the collective bargaining rights and slash benefits for most public sector workers, including teachers, in the state. Republicans control the Senate by a 19-to-14 margin, but 20 senators — and thus, at least one Democrat — are needed to vote on a bill. MORE

RELATED: The caucus headed to the Clock Tower Resort, a hotel and water park just across the state line in Rockford, Ill., but they scattered from there. Hotel management said the senators left before their presence would conflict with a scheduled Chocoholic Frolic.  It was unclear whether anything would change Friday, with Democrats still in hiding, protesters saying they would stay the night at the Capitol and Republicans vowing to try again to get the measure through. MORE

RELATED: It’s worth stepping back and trying to appreciate how big the stakes have become in Wisconsin for public employees and for organized labor in general. Union officials say they’re investing a surprising amount of energy in trying to defeat the push to strip public employees of their bargaining rights because they view this as a precedent setter for a whole range of other coming battles against anti-labor proposals in other states. If labor can defeat this proposal, it will put other GOP-controlled state governments on notice that if they move forward with similarly aggressive proposals targeting public employees, they can expect to have a massive fight on their hands. At the same time, there may be bit of a potential downside in turning this into an opening skirmish in a much larger war, one that’s now unfolding in the national media spotlight as national unions send operatives into the state. If labor loses after staking so much on this battle, other state governments may feel emboldened about forging forward with their own efforts to weaken municipal unions. MORE

RELATED: Obama accused Scott Walker, the state’s new Republican governor, of unleashing an “assault” on unions in pushing emergency bush_tax_cuts.jpglegislation that would nullify collective-bargaining agreements that affect most public employees, including teachers. The president’s political machine worked in close coordination Thursday with state and national union officials to mobilize thousands of protesters to gather in Madison and to plan similar demonstrations in other state capitals. Their efforts began to spread, as thousands of labor supporters turned out for a hearing in Columbus, Ohio, to protest a measure from Gov. John Kasich (R) that would cut collective-bargaining rights. By the end of the day, Democratic Party officials were working to organize additional demonstrations in Ohio and Indiana, where an effort is underway to trim benefits for public workers. Some union activists predicted similar protests in Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. MORE

RELATED: Public workers jammed the Statehouse today as the Ohio Senate continued to hear testimony on a bill that would eliminate collective bargaining rights for state employees and change the rights of local government employees. The workers, many wearing bright red T-shirts, filled the Statehouse atrium and rotunda while others milled about outside. They voiced their opposition loudly, sometimes echoing into the Senate hearing room and competing with the speakers testifying in support of Senate Bill 5. The State Highway Patrol estimated the crowd at 1,800. MORE

RELATED: Pennsylvania GOP lawmakers who control the 203-member state House “agree with the actions in Wisconsin,” Steve Miskin, a spokesman for Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said this afternoon. “There are a number of House Republicans who agree with the actions in Wisconsin,” Miskin said. MOREbush_tax_cuts.jpg

RELATED: The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, or the USS Maddox Incident, are the names given to two separate incidents, one disputed, involving North Vietnam and the United States in the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. The outcome of these two incidents was the passage by Congress of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted President Lyndon B. Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardized by “communist aggression”. The resolution served as Johnson’s legal justification for deploying U.S. conventional forces and the commencement of open warfare against North Vietnam. MORE

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