Democratic members of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee went on the attack against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s budget ax in defense of some of their top donors ̶ public-sector unions ̶ during his appearance before the committee Thursday.
The Democrats subjected Walker to a blistering cross-examination over his decision to curtail public-sector unions’ collective bargaining rights ̶ rights they repeatedly called “fundamental”.
The hearing, which had been called by Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. to discuss pension and other budgetary challenges facing the states and the District of Columbia, but it did not take long before it descended into bitter partisanship.
Walker’s plan abolishes the automatic deduction of union dues from public employee paychecks and requires them to contribute 5.8 percent for their pensions and 12.6 percent for their health insurance premiums among other things. The governor anticipates the new law would save local governments $700 million annually.
Political motivations were of particular concern to the Democrats who accused Walker of eliminating collective bargaining with the intention of undermining the Democratic Party and denying President Obama re-election.
“Have you ever had a conversation with respect to your actions in Wisconsin in using them to punish members of the opposition party and their donor base?” Virginia Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly asked Walker. “You’ve never had such a conversation?”
Walker denied the accusation and responded by refocusing attention on his eight years as a county executive where he confronted unions that were unwilling to make what he said were modest changes to their compensation.
According to OpenSecrets.org, Connolly ranked number two in the entire Congress in terms of the amount of donations received from public-sector unions, raking in $122,750 in 2010 alone. Only then-House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., received more campaign donations from public-sector unions.
Other Democrats continued Connolly’s line of questioning, but contended the Wisconsin unions had been willing to strike a deal with Walker short of losing their collective bargaining rights.