Wisconsin Protests: What They're Fighting For

As the second week of the budget battle begins, an overview of what's at stake

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The battle over Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's budget plan is now entering its second week, with a resolution still unclear. But as various special interest groups have descended on Madison, the fight has sprawled from the original budget controversy. Everything started when, in an effort to slash his state's budget deficit from $3.6 billion, Walker proposed radically curtailing the benefits and pensions of public sector workers and stripping unions of collective bargaining power in order to save $300 million over the next two years. After sustained protests at the state capitol, a moderate Republican proposal was submitted allowing for bargaining rights to be reinstated in 2013, but Democratic lawmakers have been hesitant so far. The Wisconsin budget battle has become a defacto proxy in the GOP-led effort to launch a nationwide campaign aimed at dismantling "powerful" union interests.

Here's what interest groups are fighting for:

Simply Job Benefits Governor Walker's plan, as first proposed, would affect all public workers except for police, state troopers and firefighters. Workers would be required to "pay half of their pension costs and at least 12 percent of their health-care costs" and "would lose bargaining rights for anything other than pay," reported The Washington Post. Also at stake? Eligibility for Medicaid."Walker's budget repair bill, introduced last week but stalled by the protests, would give the state Department of Health Services the authority to restrict eligibility, modify benefits and make other changes to Medicaid with less legislative review than required now," reports the Wisconsin State Journal.

The Players: Wisconsin public sector employees and, potentially, public workers nationwide.)

The Right To Unionize Stripped of the power to collectively bargain, Wisconsin public unions will have lost their ability to "act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions," argues Paul Krugman. "You don’t have to love unions, you don’t have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy." And even though moderate Wisconsin Republicans have offered a compromise that would potentially reinstate collective bargaining power in 2013, Democratic lawmakers aren't budging for a simple reason. "I’m sure you can understand why Democrats aren’t going for this. Because it’s only a compromise if you think Republicans will keep their promise and let the legislation they’re proposing expire," blogs Justin Gardner at Donklephant.
As the protest went nationwide last week, both the President and the Speaker of the House predictably sniped at each other. Recognizing that he need to side with a core constituency, Obama hedged, "I think everybody's got to make some adjustments, but I think it's also important to recognize that public employees make enormous contributions to our states and our citizens" (via Washington Post).
The Players: Wisconsin state Democratic legislators, Congressional Democrats, President Obama and, potentially, all unions

A Mandate for Spending Hawks Here are salaries of some of the protesting Wisconsin teachers (via Washington Examiner): "$67,000, $68,000, $58,000, and $59,000, with benefit packages of $18,000, $20,000, $12,000, and $29,000." Even though some of the benefits for these teachers will be slashed, the incomes listed seem "more than reasonable" to the Examiner especially when compared to Wisconsin's private sector employees who, "on average make much less." Per Gov. Walker's plan, state workers would give up $300 million dollars in benefits over two years accounting for less than 10 percent of the state's $3.6 billion budget deficit (via Fox News). Walker concedes that cutting these benefits is only "a piece of the puzzle" toward balancing the budget. In response to the president's remarks, John Boehner naturally, replied with this statement: "Rather than trying to ‘win the future,’ the president’s political allies are trying, desperately, to cling to a failed past by fighting reforms our nation needs to liberate our economy from the shackles of debt and create a better future for our children and grandchildren." (Via Politico). 
The Players: Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin GOP Lawmakers, House Speaker John Boehner, Tea Party Supporters
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.