Wisconsin's Teachers Union Battle Goes National

President Obama and conservative activists wade into a state budget fight

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The battle over Wisconsin's budget has gone national, with President Obama accusing Gov. Scott Walker of launching an "assault" on unions and Andrew Breitbart joining a rally in support of Walker set for Saturday. Facing a $3.6 billion shortfall, Walker wants to save $300 million over the next two years by prohibiting unions to bargain for anything other than pay raises, making members pay half their pension costs and 12 percent of health care costs, The Washington Post's Brady Dennis and Peter Wallsten report. Thousands protested the bill in Madison and Democratic state lawmakers fled the state to prevent a vote on it.

House Speaker John Boehner cheered Walker for "daring to speak the truth" about government spending. But some argue that he's seizing on a temporary problem to permanently weaken unions. Several states have been working to scale back the power of government workers' unions. Rallies are now planned in Indiana and Ohio, and union activists said more could come in Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

States have the hardest choices to make now
, The Atlantic's Megan McArdle writes. "And thanks to a confluence of factors--ObamaCare rules that keep states from cutting Medicaid spending, poorly thought-out pension obligations that are now coming due, crashing revenue thanks to the recession, and in all but one states, a balanced budget requirement--those choices have to be made now. Wisconsin is facing a $3.6 billion shortfall over the next two years. The money is going to have to come from somewhere." Still, McArdle writes, one has to ask conservatives, "is it good policy to tie the hands of politicians in seeking to attract and retain teachers?"

But the controversy is about more than that, The Washington Post's Ezra Klein writes. Wisconsin's fiscal problems are not the unions' fault. "There was no sharp rise in collective bargaining in 2006 and 2007, no major reforms of the country’s labor laws, no dramatic change in how unions organize. And yet, state budgets collapsed. Revenues plummeted. Taxes had to go up, and spending had to go down, all across the country." Whose fault was that? Banks, Wall Street, Wall Street regulators, maybe. But not organized labor. Further, Klein writes, Walker has doled out two corporate tax breaks and a health care policy that lowers tax revenues.

And public employees are taking a cut just this one time to plug the budget. Walker wants to permanently end their ability to negotiate health benefits. "That's how you keep a crisis from going to waste: You take a complicated problem that requires the apparent need for bold action and use it to achieve a longtime ideological objective. In this case, permanently weakening public-employee unions, a group much-loathed by Republicans in general and by the Republican legislators who have to battle them in elections in particular."

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