Republican members of the state Assembly (and one independent) held a press conference Tuesday morning at which they vowed to stand firm in their support of Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill, and especially the provisions that would gut the collective bargaining rights of public employees.
"This bill is about solving a budget deficit," said Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon), arguing that the changes to collective bargaining are essential to managing the cuts he says will be coming for public schools.
Fitzgerald, like Walker, also claimed that support for these changes in his district and throughout the state, almost nowhere in evidence at the state Capitol this week, was massive and overwhelming. "The people," he asserted, "are on our side."
Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson) agreed, saying the people of Wisconsin have sounded a "desperate cry" for the changes sought by the governor, which he called "painful but necessary."
According to Knudson, "collective bargaining is a failed process," and largely getting rid of the need to engage in it will "set Wisconsin on a course to a firm and sound financial future."
Rep. Joe Knilans (R-Janesville) took this point further: "Union rights are a privilege, not a civil right," he asserted. "Collective bargaining in Wisconsin is 'you can't make me.'"
While this was exactly a pretty good explanation for why tens of thousands of state teachers, prison guards and other workers are reluctant to have this right stripped away, the Republicans were not inclined to cry them a river.
Neither was Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer of Manitowoc, the Legislature's lone independent. He heaped opprobrium on union leaders, saying "The most disheartening aspect [of the current situation] is the attitude that comes from headquarters, which says, 'Lay them off.'"
How dare these union masters have such little regard for their members?
In the question and answer portion, the Assembly members were asked whether they might agree to the stripping of collective bargaining rights for just the next two years, as some have suggested (after which, presumably, the unions will be in a strong enough position to pick up from there and magically undue any losses they've accrued). Speaker Fitzgerald rejected this, saying the people of Wisconsin "sent us here" to achieve a more permanent solution.
The representatives were also asked whether there was any part of the budget bill they were willing to amend like, for instance, to exempt transit workers since the stripping of their collective bargaining rights could mean the loss of tens of millions of dollars in federal aid.
Replied Rep. Robin Vos (R-Burlington), "we still believe it is not clear" that the changes would have this effect. Better sorry than safe.
Speaker Fitzgerald capped off the proceedings by noting that Wisconsin's constitution requires a balanced budget, turning even this into a partisan issue: "The president can just print money ... which he's been doing since he took office." Wisconsin can't.
Then Fitzgerald turned it back on his Democratic colleagues, who were not in the room: "Why don't you ask the Democrats what's their option [for fixing the deficit]?" He didn't wait for the question to be asked, before deciding to answer it himself: "It's to raise taxes."
And just imagine the commotion that would cause.