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Wisconsin legislative standoff continues

Republican governor, Democrats in Senate no closer to agreement

- The Washington Times - Monday, February 21, 2011

No resolution to the standoff over union rights in Wisconsin appeared in sight Monday, as neither side showed signs of retreat in a bitter game of political chicken that again drew thousands of protesters to the state Capitol in Madison.

First-year Republican Gov. Scott Walker remained defiant, rejecting a proposed compromise to end the stalemate while chastising Democratic lawmakers for skipping town.

"For those 14 [state] senator Democrats, you had your time, now it's time to come home," the governor said during a Monday evening news conference. "If you want to participate in democracy, you've got to be in the arena, and the arena is right here in Madison, Wisconsin. It's not Chicago, it's not Rockford [Ill.], it's not anywhere else but the state Capitol."

Mr. Walker added that thousands of state workers risk being laid off if the budget conflict isn't resolved soon.

Democratic lawmakers said they're willing to concede on some of Mr. Walker's proposals, and accused the governor of being unreasonable.

"The problem is really with the governor," Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout said Monday on MSNBC. "We'd all like to be home. I can't argue with that. We'd like to be in Madison. But the minute we cross the state lines, we lose any power we have to be able to negotiate."

The 14 Senate Democrats — who skipped town Thursday to indefinitely delay a vote on Mr. Walker's bill that strips most collective-bargaining rights from most public employees — remained missing in action for a fifth day.

Republicans in Wisconsin have the votes to pass the bill, but they need at least one of 14 Senate Democrats so that a legislative quorum of 20 senators in the chamber that has 19 Republicans can be reached and a vote taken. The Democratic lawmakers have threatened to stay away for weeks, saying the ball is in Mr. Walker's court.

The unions agreed to Mr. Walker's plan, which would also cut their take-home pay by about 8 percent by requiring them to contribute more of their salaries toward their health insurance premiums and retirement benefits. But they refused to budge on the governor's plan to eliminate collective-bargaining rights for many state workers.

Republican Sen. Dale Schultz suggested a compromise that would remove collective-bargaining rights just for two years. But the governor rejected the idea, saying local governments and school districts can't be hamstrung by the often lengthy collective-bargaining process and need to have more flexibility to deal with up to $1 billion in cuts he will propose in his budget next week and into the future.

"It will never get to me because other than that one state senator, all the rest of the Republicans are firmly behind our proposal," the governor said Monday on MSNBC.

"We're broke, like nearly every other state across the country," he said, adding, "We've got to balance the budget, and fix it once and for all."

Amid bitterly cold winds and temperatures in the 20s, labor supporters outside the state Capitol in Madison on Monday waved signs that read "Stop the attack on Wisconsin families" and "Solidarity."

The labor fight has become a national issue, as Democratic lawmakers have joined organized labor and liberal groups to condemn Mr. Walker.

Guitarist Tom Morello of the band Rage Against the Machine took to a stage on the Capitol steps Monday. He said he flew in from California to lend his voice to the protest.

"The future of workers' rights will be decided in Madison, Wisconsin," he said. "You're making history here."

Potential Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said he thought Mr. Walker was handling the situation well and that it was the Democrats who fled the state who were to blame.

"I think it could be a different environment and a different dynamic if they would come and do their duty and show up for work and say, 'OK, let's start talking,'" the former Arkansas governor said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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