Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker blames "union bosses" for budget stalemate

Scott Walker, Wisconsin
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker addresses the media regarding a letter received from Sen. Mark Miller, D- Monona, on Monday, March 7, 2011 in Madison, Wis. Walker rejected a request from Democrats that he meet with them to talk about possible changes in his plan to eliminate union rights for most public workers.
John Hart,AP-Photo/Wisconsin State Journal

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker on Monday night said that "union bosses in D.C." were likely to blame for the stalemate he has seemingly reached with Wisconsin Democratic lawmakers over legislation that would impact union rights.

After nearly three weeks, all 14 Wisconsin Senate Democrats remain out of state to prevent a vote on Walker's so-called "budget repair bill."

Democratic leader Mark Miller yesterday sought to arrange a meeting with Walker and the state Senate Republican leader to reach a compromise over the bill, but the two Republicans rebuffed the offer. Walker called Miller's request for a meeting at the Wisconsin-Illinois border "ridiculous" and charged that Miller is "the person standing in the way of progress."

Reports over the weekend suggested that Miller and other Democrats were ready to return to Wisconsin -- even without the changes they wanted to the budget repair bill -- but Miller's letter made clear Democrats want to continue negotiations. Walker last night speculated that Miller changed his tune because of the influence of national union leaders, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

"I don't have this on firsthand knowledge" as to why the Democrats remain out of state, Walker said last night at a forum in Waukesha, Wisc. "My guess is [Miller] got a phone call from one of the union bosses in D.C. who said, 'You cannot go back there and let them have a vote.'"

In response to the reports about their possible return, Miller and other Democrats said yesterday that their position never changed; they said they were simply acknowledging that they will at some point in time have to go back to Wisconsin.

The Democrats are holding out for Walker to drop a provision of his budget repair bill that would largely scale back public workers' collective bargaining rights. Unions have already agreed to other parts of the bill that would scale back their benefits, but they argue that limiting collective bargaining rights will not impact the budget.

Walker and Republicans argue that limiting collective bargaining rights is an important element of the legislation that will enable local municipalities to meet budget realities.

Walker said of the Democrats last night, "Eventually, if any of them come back, this bill will pass."

Also speaking at the forum Monday, the Journal Sentinel reports, was Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett -- the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Walker defeated in 2010. Barrett who pointed out that the Senate could vote on collective bargaining rights as a standalone measure without the 14 Democrats present. Indeed, the Wisconsin Senate only needs a 20-vote quorum to pass a spending bill, so the 19 state Senate Republicans could pass non-spending legislation on their own.

"Don't hide it [in the budget-repair bill]," Barrett said. "Don't make this a Trojan horse."

He said he believes Republicans are not voting on the measure separately because it would not pass. Several polls have shown that most people in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the country agree with Democrats that union collective bargaining rights do not need to be scaled back.

Meanwhile, as the conflict drags on, liberal groups are keeping up the pressure on Republicans. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America said yesterday they've raised over $525,000 online since Wednesday, when they launched a pro-union campaign. They're using the money to keep an ad on the air that blasts Walker's plan, and to assist local recall efforts against Republican lawmakers.

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