Wisconsin Stalemate at Tipping Point

BY Terence Burlij  March 4, 2011 at 8:18 AM EDT

Wisconsin protesters; photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Protesters remain in the Wisconsin capitol Thursday as Gov. Scott Walker announced impending layoffs. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

It appears the stalemate in Wisconsin has reached a tipping point.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker announced Thursday that he would start sending layoff notices to 1,500 state workers Friday unless the impasse over his budget repair bill is resolved.

“I pushed it off as long as I could because I do not want to have layoffs,” Gov. Walker told the Associated Press in an interview Thursday. The layoffs would not take effect for 31 days. Gov. Walker told the AP he could rescind them if an agreement is reached before then, but without a deal in place the cuts were necessary for the state to realize some of the $30 million in savings expected to come from concessions.

The 14 Democrats in the Wisconsin state Senate have blocked action on Gov. Walker’s measure by hiding out in Illinois since mid-February. Their Republican colleagues upped the ante Thursday by finding their Democratic colleagues in contempt and issued orders for Wisconsin law enforcement to detain them.

Gov. Walker claims that the bill, which would require public employees to cover more of the costs of their pension and health care plans, is needed to close the state’s budget deficit, which is projected to hit $137 million by July. His proposal would also peel away nearly all collective bargaining rights for most public workers.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also caught up with Gov. Walker on Thursday, reporting that he showed the slightest shift in what had been an unflinching position.

“[T]he Republican governor said his administration was in talks with Democrats, and he also showed a sign for the first time in the budget crisis that he might be willing to make at least one marginal change to his budget-repair bill,” Journal Sentinel reporters Patrick Marley and Jason Stein write. “But Walker remained firm on the core of the proposal, which would eliminate most collective bargaining for public employee unions.”

It’s that last part that led pro-union protesters to stage a 17-day sit-in at the state capitol in Madison. The demonstrators were ordered to leave the building Thursday after a judge ruled the building be closed at night. The judge did, however, find the state was wrong to limit access to the capitol facility during the day.

NUMBERS GAME

Budget negotiations continued among the White House, House and Senate Thursday as Vice President Joe Biden and other White House officials met with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

So far, this is all we know about what happened, according to a statement from Vice President Biden:

“We had a good meeting, and the conversation will continue.”

The White House, however, showed a bit of their hand Thursday when, before the meeting, Director of the National Economic Council Gene Sperling told reporters the administration was willing to cut and additional $6.5 billion from the president’s last budget request, which was never enacted.

According to Sperling, that figure would bring the Democrats’ spending cut number to approximately $50 billion, which he said meets the Republicans halfway on their $100 billion cut pledge.

As the Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog points out, both sides in the debate have been using different budgets to make their own proposed cuts seem bigger. The $50 billion or $100 billion figures are cuts from a budget that never existed.

The House GOP measure passed two weeks ago would cut $61 billion from current spending levels, and the Post’s Glenn Kessler shows that the real cuts offered by the Democrats — $4 billion in cuts in the stopgap measure passed this week and $6.5 billion announced by Sperling — amount to about $10 billion.

Speaker Boehner and the Republicans’ willingness to represent a never-passed budget as the status quo has also confused a Tea Party leader who now wants to find a primary challenger for Boehner, according to CBS News.

Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips said the “honeymoon was over.”

“Early on, the GOP promised to cut $100 billion from the budget,” Phillips wrote on a blog. “The Republicans in the House quickly went squishy on that and had to be cajoled into cutting only $61 billion. Now, John Boehner is saying when the Senate comes back and they start negotiating…the $61 billion figure is not safe.”

ALWAYS LEAVE THEM WANTING MORE

Talk about a let-down. The expectation on Thursday had been that Newt Gingrich would make a presidential run official. Then, it became an event where he would announce he was “testing the waters.” Then, when the former House speaker actually went before cameras Thursday afternoon, all he had to say was that he would look at a run “very seriously.”

Oh, yes, and there was the unveiling of a website — NewtExplore2012.com — that will allow Gingrich to raise money to take the necessary steps to gauge whether there’s sufficient support for his candidacy.

For all the details on Gingrich’s nine-minute appearance Thursday at the state capitol in Atlanta, make sure to check out Jeff Zeleny’s account in the New York Times.

Dan Balz over at the Washington Post, meanwhile, looks to answer this question: “Does Newt Gingrich have what it takes for the 2012 presidential campaign?”

A FULL FRIDAY

President Obama has a very presidential day ahead of him.

There are, of course, the usual meetings with senior advisors.

But he will also sit down Friday morning with his former chief of staff and Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel. The newly-elected Emanuel is sure to receive a warm greeting (and perhaps some good-natured ribbing) from his former boss and others in the West Wing, but unfortunately none of it will be on camera as their 10:45 a.m. ET event is closed to the press.

Later in the afternoon, the president will hop aboard Air Force One and head down to Florida, where he will visit a classroom at Miami Central Senior High School with former Gov. Jeb Bush and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

According to the White House, the president will “deliver remarks on how winning the future in education will require investments that promote a shared responsibility among everyone involved; reform at the state and local levels; and focus on achieving results.”

Before returning to Washington late Friday, the president will raise some coin for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Florida will not only be a key battleground state in the 2012 presidential campaign, but will also see a critical Senate race, with incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson seeking a third term.

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.