Walker vs. Obama

Today, during a pitiful, whiny, partisan speech President Obama delivered to an assembly of the nation’s governors, who were in Washington for the National Governors’ Association conference, there was this passage taking a shot at Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for his role in the labor standoff there…

But let me also say this:  I don’t think it does anybody any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified or their rights are infringed upon.  We need to attract the best and the brightest to public service.  These times demand it.  We’re not going to attract the best teachers for our kids, for example, if they only make a fraction of what other professionals make.  We’re not going to convince the bravest Americans to put their lives on the line as police officers or firefighters if we don’t properly reward that bravery.

So, yes, we need a conversation about pensions and Medicare and Medicaid and other promises that we’ve made as a nation.  And those will be tough conversations, but necessary conservations.  As we make these decisions about our budget going forward, though, I believe that everyone should be at the table and that the concept of shared sacrifice should prevail.  If all the pain is borne by only one group — whether it’s workers, or seniors, or the poor — while the wealthiest among us get to keep or get more tax breaks, we’re not doing the right thing.  I think that’s something that Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree on.

Now, as we begin to get our budgets under control, the other thing we can’t do is sacrifice our future.  Even as we cut back on those things that don’t add to growth or opportunity for our people, we have to keep investing in those things that are absolutely necessary to America’s success — education, innovation, infrastructure.

Walker’s response was a bit more convincing. How’s this for a press release?

“I’m sure the President knows that most federal employees do not have collective bargaining for wages and benefits while our plan allows it for base pay.

And I’m sure the President knows that the average federal worker pays twice as much for health insurance as what we are asking for in Wisconsin. At least I would hope he knows these facts.

“Furthermore, I’m sure the President knows that we have repeatedly praised the more than 300,000 government workers who come to work every day in Wisconsin.

“I’m sure that President Obama simply misunderstands the issues in Wisconsin, and isn’t acting like the union bosses in saying one thing and doing another.”

Walker has given the state’s 14 wayward Democrat senators, who fled to Illinois on Feb. 17 rather than vote on Wisconsin’s budget-repair bill, until tomorrow to return. Tomorrow, he gives an address on next year’s budget which will contain over $1 billion in cuts to the state’s aid to local governments- the provisions in the budget-repair bill the Democrats stonewalled contain collective-bargaining reforms which allow local governments in the state the freedom to adjust to the fact that aid will be slashed. Union locals have used collective bargaining at the local level to hold those governments hostage; the average time for collective bargaining agreements to be reached in that state is 15 months, and with the state and the local governments out of money it’s likely the next round of negotiations would be nightmarish.

But Walker is also up against a deadline for $165 million in debt restructuring, which he says will land tomorrow. And if the Democrats don’t return, that $165 million will come due in a balloon payment – which means Walker will have to lay people off.

It’s a mess. But Obama might regret having waded into it – because he’s days away from his own budget crisis, and rather than fleeing Capitol Hill the president’s opponents in the legislative branch are likely to stick around and make his life miserable for months. The latest round of proposals on the federal budget is to swallow up the majority of real cuts the president put forth in his budget – and give him only two weeks’ worth of an extension of the federal government.

After that deal is enacted, if it is, there will be another round in which the Republicans will demand more concessions in order to give Obama another short period of time. And another round. And another. And so on. Ultimately, either Obama will have to cave in to GOP positions which will destroy his relationship with the left-wing base or there will be a government shutdown – for two reasons. First, the House Republicans are being driven into this fight by the Tea Party movement which is making it extremely clear that any surrender on the budget will trigger a massacre in party primaries next fall. They know this, and they’re being reminded of it time and time again by thousands of constituents.

And second, not only is the federal government out of money, they’re out of credit. The feds hit the debt ceiling soon, and the House Republicans are only going to agree to lift that ceiling in tiny amounts, just like in the budget fight. And for every bit of slack they give him they’re going to demand concessions.

Walker’s situation is painful now, but there’s an end in sight. At some point, those Democrat senators will have to return and when they do he’s going to get everything he wants. And he’s three years and change from being up for election; if the completion of his agenda resolves Wisconsin’s budget issues and the state’s economy begins to recover, he’ll go from controversial figure to visionary – and meanwhile the union teachers who have occupied the state capitol and made asses of themselves for two weeks by saying the reason they fraudulently called in sick was to fight for schoolchildren, along with the state senators who have for two weeks made the idiotic case that by fleeing Wisconsin they were serving the interest of that state’s taxpayers, won’t be in a position to rehabilitate themselves.

By contrast, Obama has no real exit strategy. The country is against him on the debt ceiling, and it’s against him on the budget. His approval ratings are plummeting largely due to the weak response on foreign policy and the forays into the Wisconsin mess he’s already made. And it’s only going to get worse, because he has no way to avoid the budget issue. The can can’t be kicked down the road anymore, not after he’s run up $5 trillion in federal debt in just two years. And so far he’s not even engaged on the issue, which means he’s in real trouble.

And while the media narrative has been that the GOP is facing ruin, recent polling indicates a shutdown isn’t so bad at all. A Rasmussen poll finds 58 percent of Americans would rather a partial shutdown occur while Obama and his people haggle with the House GOP over where to cut in order to bring the budget into balance, as opposed to avoiding a shutdown by spending at current levels (only 33 percent favor that). And a poll done by TheHill.com finds that voters would blame Democrats more than Republicans by 29 percent to 23 percent in the case where a shutdown happened.

With numbers like that, Obama is in a corner. He can’t win on the budget, because it’s too late for him not to have a budget cut agenda. He’s had opportunities to build one – he could have endorsed the debt commissions recommendations, for example, or he could have scrubbed defense or other programs. Instead, his contribution is that he wants to freeze federal spending at the highest levels in human history. That wasn’t a serious proposal and it wasn’t received as one. So now he’s reduced to reacting to Republican proposals while trying to defend federal spending the voters would rather see a shutdown than perpetuate.

In short, Obama is out of options. He lost his ability to move to the center when he didn’t call for budget cuts in the State of the Union address, and now he can’t earn credit for doing it – because he can only do so by capitulating in pieces large and small, which conveys the image of a weak president and also enrages the same hard-left base which has caused so much trouble in Wisconsin and without whom Obama has no chance of being re-elected.

So while it’s no surprise that the president is taking shots at Walker, the president would do well not to call more attention to the governor’s situation. At the end of the day, Walker is in far better shape than Obama is.

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