The Wall Street Journal reports that the fleebaggers have decided to end their strike and return to the Wisconsin legislature this week, possibly as early as today. They will allow a vote on the budget repair bill but plan to use it in the next election in an attempt to wrest back the legislative majority in 2012:
Playing a game of political chicken, Democratic senators who fled Wisconsin to stymie restrictions on public-employee unions said Sunday they planned to come back from exile soon, betting that even though their return will allow the bill to pass, the curbs are so unpopular they’ll taint the state’s Republican governor and legislators. …
Sen. Mark Miller said he and his fellow Democrats intend to let the full Senate vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget-repair” bill, which includes the proposed limits on public unions’ collective bargaining rights. The bill, which had been blocked because the missing Democrats were needed for the Senate to have enough members present to consider the bill, is expected to pass the Republican-controlled chamber.
He said he thinks recent polls showing voter discontent with Mr. Walker over limits on bargaining rights have been “disastrous” for the governor and give Democrats more leverage to seek changes in a broader two-year budget bill Mr. Walker proposed Tuesday.
But Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Sunday night that the “budget repair” bill can not be amended at this point. But it’s possible that over the next few weeks adjustments could be made to Mr. Walker’s broader budget plan. “This bill will pass. The collective bargaining piece has to pass. If it doesn’t the governor’s budget doesn’t work,” he said.
The big question is whether those poll numbers will stand up over the long term. If Walker balances the budget without raising taxes while allowing local governments to control costs through these changes as Walker promises, then the political damage will be short lived. If spending continues unabated, Walker and the GOP will have bigger problems than just this budget-repair bill, but that doesn’t seem likely after their unity on this point. Having this battle early in the session means that it will be a long time until the next election, and the GOP will have plenty of opportunity to show that their approach will pay dividends to taxpayers.
In fact, the bigger risk will be that in the end, voters will realize that Walker’s changes were not all that drastic after all and that they gave government the ability to spend more efficiently. That will make the fleebaggers look even more petty, as well as hopelessly in the pockets of unions who wanted to continue their control over public policy at even the cost of representative government. In eighteen months, we’ll see who’s bragging about this, and who wants to talk about almost anything else.
Update: The Journal-Sentinel reports this morning that chief fleebagger Mark Miller wants a meeting with Walker “near the Wisconsin-Illinois border” before they’ll return:
Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona) said in a letter sent out Monday that he wants to meet with Republicans “near the Wisconsin-Illinois border to formally resume serious discussions” on Walker’s budget repair bill. … “I assure you that Democratic state senators, despite our differences and the vigorous debate we have had, remain ready and willing to find a reasonable compromise,” Miller said in the letter.
I suspect that Walker will explain yet again that the state of Wisconsin already provides a forum for that discussion, and it’s not “near the Wisconsin-Illinois border.” It’s in Madison, which is where the Democratic legislators should have been all along if they wanted to take meetings.