E-mails by Gov. Walker Show Possible Crack in Wisconsin Stalemate

BY David Chalian  March 9, 2011 at 8:32 AM EST

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at a press conference earlier this week. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

As Democrats in the Wisconsin state Senate reached the end of their third week hiding out in Illinois, there was a possible glimmer of movement away from each side’s fortified positions in the battle over collective bargaining rights and slightly toward compromise.

E-mails between Gov. Scott Walker’s aides and the state Senate Democrats indicate that the Republican governor appeared willing to revive certain aspects of collective bargaining in order to negotiate a compromise with the unions and their Democratic allies.

The New York Times reports on some of the changes Gov. Walker appears willing to consider:

“[R]emoving the Consumer Price Index bargaining limit for wages, allowing bargaining over some economic issues like overtime (but only if both sides agreed to do so), permitting bargaining over workplace safety, and requiring votes on unions every three years. The e-mails were released by Mr. Walker’s office in response to public records requests after negotiations broke off between the Senate Democrats and Republicans who control Wisconsin’s Legislature.”

Senate Democrats have reportedly indicated that the governor’s concessions don’t go far enough to bring them back to Wisconsin for formal negotiations.

The movement in Wisconsin comes amid two developments certain to perpetuate the larger national debate surrounding the Badger State stalemate.

Bloomberg News is out with a poll Wednesday that will, no doubt, further stiffen labor’s backbone in places like Wisconsin and Ohio:

“As battles rage between state workers and Republican governors in Wisconsin and Ohio, 63 percent don’t think states should be able to break their promises to retirees, and respondents split over whether governors aim to balance their budgets or weaken unions that back Democratic foes, according to the poll conducted March 4-7.

“The poll shows that political challenges to government workers are failing to draw broad support from a public more concerned about unemployment than government deficits. Respondents are divided over whether public employees should sacrifice to help states ease their fiscal crises: About half say governors are unfairly targeting unions and 46 percent say public employees should be willing to accept benefit cuts. The fracture largely reflects party lines.”

And POLITICO’s Jonathan Martin reports that American Crossroads GPS, the Republican-allied group headed by former George W. Bush advisers Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, is working to reverse those poll numbers by going up with a national cable buy for a 60-second spot that highlights labor’s close political relationship to President Obama.

“‘Why are Democrats shutting down state capitals?’ asks a narrator with images of the protesters in Madison, Wis., on the screen. ‘To protect a system that pays unionized government workers 42 percent more than non-union workers, a system that collects hundreds of millions in mandatory dues to back liberals who support government unions.’”

BUDGET BATTLE

The U.S. Senate was all talk, but no votes Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had called for lawmakers to test the strength of two proposals to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The Democratic plan would trim $4.7 billion from last year’s spending levels. The GOP alternative, which passed the House last month, would slash $57 billion.

Sen. Reid accused Republicans of reneging on a deal agreed to last week to hold back-to-back votes on the two spending measures. “It seems Republicans themselves must have finally read their own budget, because now even they’re running away from it,” Sen. Reid said, describing the House bill, labeled H.R. 1, as “reckless” and “counterproductive.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., didn’t have much to say about the timing of the votes, but he had plenty of criticism for the plan being offered by Democrats. “We’re averaging about $4 billion a day in debt this year, and Democrats want to cut $4.7 billion and call it a day,” Sen. McConnell said.

A vote on the Republican bill is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET Wednesday. If it fails to clear the 60-vote threshold, the Senate will then proceed to a vote on the Democratic proposal.

As it became clear Tuesday that the votes would slip a day, both parties began to show signs of fracture in their ranks.

Freshman Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said the president had “failed to lead” on the spending debate. “This debate will be decided when the president leads these tough negotiations. And, right now, that is not happening,” Sen. Manchin said.

That call for the president to fill the leadership void was also heard coming from the Republican side of the aisle. “The president should be convening congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle to sit down and craft a spending reduction package…that is both thoughtful and substantial,” said Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, reports POLITICO’s David Rogers.

Sen. Snowe’s fellow Mainer in the Senate, Susan Collins, told Rogers that the House GOP bill includes “specific cuts that…are too deep and do not allow time to wind down activities.”

All this leaves lawmakers some $52 billion apart with nine days left to work out a long-term agreement before the current funding expires. The expectation is that once both sides finally have proof that their positions are unable to garner the support needed to move forward, lawmakers will be forced to bridge that divide.

Whether they can do that in the next week-and-a-half is another question. Just in case, House appropriators have started work on another temporary stopgap to avert a potential shutdown come March 18.

CABINET RELATIONS

The Washington Post fronts a post-Rahm Emanuel push in the White House to utilize Cabinet secretaries more effectively as messengers of the president’s priorities.

Anne Kornblut writes up the strained relations between the White House and the various Cabinet agencies:

“Both sides were deeply disgruntled. Agency heads privately complained that the White House was a ‘fortress’ that was unwilling to accept input and that micromanaged their departments. Senior administration advisers rolled their eyes in staff meetings at the mention of certain Cabinet members, participants said.

“Obama himself said his advisers were relying on him too frequently as a messenger, rather than letting his appointees carry important themes to the country, senior administration officials said. And the president felt isolated. ‘One of the first things he said to me was, ‘I want to see these people more often,’ Daley said in an interview.

“Cabinet members also registered their grievances with Daley shortly after he arrived in January. ‘You hear the same thing: ‘I don’t think we’re used well.I don’t think we’re consulted enough,’ Daley said. ‘Whether it’s true or not, perception becomes reality, and I think there’s a desire to feel more part of a team.’”

CIRCLING THE CALENDAR

With all of the top Republican contenders for 2012 still officially on the outside looking in, the big question is: When are they going to throw their hats into the ring?

The Associated Press’ Philip Elliott scans the field and lays out the timeline for most of the potential candidates:

  • Former Govs. Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty: “Romney and Pawlenty both are expected to take their own official steps in early spring, likely after April 1.”

  • U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman: “The former Utah governor’s resignation from Beijing takes effect in April and he might launch a campaign from his new Washington-area home in May.”

  • Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour: “He will be in Iowa twice this month but is not committing to a White House run until the Mississippi legislature ends its session in early April. Advisers say it could be May before he decides.”

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