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.
“Some of the people in this drama have been pretty open about trying to peel away a rather important constituency for working families,” Connecticut Democratic Rep. Christopher Murphy, said referring to a recent appearance by Republican Wisconsin state Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald on Fox News.
Murphy then quoted Fitzgerald as having said Obama would have a more difficult time winning Wisconsin if the unions were to lose their collective bargaining rights. Murphy received $71,000 in public-sector union contributions in 2010 and has received a total of $179,000 from public-sector unions throughout his career.
“This sounds a lot like a much broader political fight to try to defeat your opponents, to try to defeat the advocates for working families.”
Faced with Murphy’s line of questioning, Walker again attempted to move the discussion back to budgetary issues.
“I can’t answer for Scott Fitzgerald; I can only answer for Scott Walker,” Walker said. “For me it’s about the budget, and ultimately it’s about making government work better.
“We’re trying to avoid what they’re doing in many other states where they are having massive layoffs on the state and the local level,” the governor continued. “Ultimately, it’s about balancing the budget now and in the future.”
The unions failed to act in good faith prior to his signing his collective bargaining bill into law because the local unions were not listening to their statewide leaders, according to Walker.
But Walker took particular umbrage to questioning from Iowa Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley who accused him of cronyism in the hiring of a 27-year-old man whose only qualification was his father was a major contributor to the governor’s campaign.
“I thought the purpose of the hearing today was to talk about debt,” Walker said. “If you want to do a political stunt, go ahead.”
Braley then blasted Walker quoting Dr. Phil McGraw, saying: “How’s that working for you?” referencing good government campaign ads Walker ran while running for governor last year before being cut off by Issa.
The governor responded by saying the individual was removed from his post once it was learned he was unqualified.
Braley, who received $60,200 in public-sector union campaign contributions, followed up the hearing by calling for a congressional investigation into Walker’s “cronyism.” He has received a total of $192,000 from public-sector unions throughout his five years in Congress.
And Liberal Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, a recipient of $36,500 in public-sector union contributions in 2010 and $326,8000 overall since first being elected in 1996, similarly treated Walker to a heated interrogation attacking the integrity of the governor’s claims that eliminating collective bargaining would save his state money. Kucinich pointed to a letter from the state of Wisconsin’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau suggesting Walker’s collective bargaining changes would not have any fiscal impact in an effort to undermine the governor’s credibility.
But Kucinich also ended up clashing with Issa when the chairman reserved the right to object to allowing Kucinch to including the letter in the Congressional Record pending examination by committee staff.
“In 14 years of being on this committee, I’ve never had a chairman reserve the right to object to entering a document into the record that was central to the purpose of this hearing determining whether you governor stripping the collective bargaining rights from workers is a fiscal issue,” Kucinich said. “Well, it’s not. It’s a political issue.
“The title of this hearing is choice or necessity, and I think the thing we’ve been able to show in this hearing is that the attack on collective bargaining rights is a choice and not a budget issue.”
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, who is a Walker ally, responded to the Democrats’ treatment of Walker by saying “those who benefitted from wasteful runaway spending are not going away quietly.”