Belmont Club

Shame, Come Back, Shame!

Imagine a real case of the irresistible force versus the immovable object. That describes what is happening in Wisconsin, as the governor attempts to cut government spending, and public sector unions, supported by the Democrat allies,  are flatly refusing — and by any means necessary

A group of Democratic Wisconsin lawmakers blocked passage of a sweeping anti-union bill Thursday, refusing to show up for a vote and then abruptly leaving the state in an effort to force Republicans to the negotiating table. … “The plan is to try and slow this down because it’s an extreme piece of legislation that’s tearing this state apart,” Sen. Jon Erpenbach said in a telephone interview. He refused to say where he was. 


Rumor has it the Democratic lawmakers are holed up in a Best Western in Rockford, Illinois. The plan is probably not just to slow it down, but kill it, because it’s make or break time. Union jobs are on the line in a big way. Some news reports say Wisconsin’s Capitol is filled with “protesters,” while others say they are just union members out to protect jobs which the taxpayers can no longer afford. Either way, something’s got to give. 

The same confrontation was being re-enacted on the federal level as Democrats (or Republicans depending on who you choose to blame) threatened to shut down the government if spending was cut/increased. The threats have flown thick and fast: Congress would not be paid; Social Security checks would not be sent out; the president would veto any cuts he did not approve of. Sparks were flying everywhere as the Deficit Express raced to smash on the Cliff of Bankruptcy. 

President Obama directly entered the Wisconsin fray, accusing Scott Walker, the Republican governor, “of unleashing an ‘assault’ on unions in pushing emergency legislation that would nullify collective-bargaining agreements that affect most public employees, including teachers.” 

“Some of what I’ve heard coming out of Wisconsin, where they’re just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally, seems like more of an assault on unions,” Obama told a Milwaukee television reporter, taking the unusual step of inviting a local station into the White House for a sit-down interview. “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.”

George Savage thinks the Democrats are betting that the clash will play out like 1995 all over again, with Obama as Clinton and Boehner as Gingrich, and there’ll be one more payoff, one more party, one last time. Except that they can’t this time because the credit’s run out. No more beer deliveries, not for a long time. “In 1995, federal red ink totaled $164 billion, exactly one-tenth President Obama’s planned 2012 shortfall of $1.65 trillion.” It ain’t 1995 nor Kansas any more. 

President Obama is institutionalizing the “stimulus”—supposedly a one-off $862 billion splurge on “shovel ready” projects, but actually a payoff to assorted liberal constituencies. He is borrowing money at a record pace, not to finance a war or meet some other national security emergency but to sustain his political priorities. 

The trouble with one more time is that finally it gets to be the last one. For the unions, the problem with giving an inch is the admission that retreat is possible. And once the unions start going back, who knows where it may end? Even in the midst of this budget crisis, the Milwaukee teachers have held out for Viagra coverage, according to the Associated Press. “The union has asked a judge to order the school board to again include Pfizer Inc.’s erectile dysfunction drug and similar pills in its health insurance plans.”

Whatever President Obama has promised to his constituencies, including Viagra, it may be that the taxpayers finally aren’t buying. John Boehner has already vowed “read my lips: we’re going to cut spending,” while Harry Reid has proclaimed “it is unproductive to resort to threats of a shutdown without any negotiations.” Whether this will end, as it always has done in the past, with both sides backing down, cutting a deal, and saving face, remains to be seen. 

With both states and the federal government literally bankrupt, the confrontation in Wisconsin and in Washington may develop into a firestorm that jumps the normal firebreaks of the system. The year 2011 has already thrown up many an unforeseen crisis in the Middle East. Whether it is also the year in which the taxpayer finally decides that enough is enough remains to be seen. Maybe it isn’t going to be a replay between Clinton and Gingrich, but an echo of an older drama. An era is ending, and maybe the final curtain is starting to go down in Wisconsin. 

Shane: What’s your offer, Riker? 

Riker: To you, not a thing. 

Shane: That’s too bad. 

Riker: Too bad? 

Shane: Yeah, you’ve lived too long. Your kind of days are over. 

Riker: My days? What about yours, gunfighter? 

Shane: The difference is I know it. 

The politically protected constituencies may never know it’s over. Not until the final credits. Shame, come back, Shame!  Don’t bother calling. He left town a long time ago. Maybe for Rockford, Illinois. 

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