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The Nation

February 22, 2011

Neither side budging in Wisconsin union fight

MADISON, Wis. — Republican backers of Gov. Scott Walker's plan to eliminate collective bargaining rights for most public employees are trying to move the explosive proposal closer to reality, even as Democrats remained on the run and protesters filled the halls of the Capitol for a second week.

The Republican-controlled Assembly planned to debate and possibly vote on the measure Tuesday, but Democrats said they would offer more than 100 amendments in an attempt to improve the bill or at least drag it out in the hopes concessions will be made.

Things are even more chaotic in the Senate, where Democrats have halted the measure with a dramatic decision not to show up since Thursday. That has left Republicans, who control the chamber, one vote shy of the quorum needed to take up the plan.

Republicans planned to forge ahead with other business Tuesday, including a resolution honoring the Green Bay Packers for winning the Super Bowl and a bill extending tax breaks to dairy farmers. Those bills have bipartisan support, but Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has tried to put pressure on Democrats by threatening to take up more controversial matters.

It's a high-stakes game of political chicken that has riveted the nation and led to ongoing public protests that drew a high of 68,000 people on Saturday. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are budging: Walker says he won't negotiate, and the 14 missing Senate Democrats say they won't return until he does.

Public employees have said they would agree to concessions Walker wants that would amount to an 8 percent pay cut on average, but they want to retain their collective bargaining rights. One Republican senator also has floated an alternative that would make the elimination of those rights temporary.

Walker has repeatedly rejected both offers, saying local governments and school districts can't be hamstrung by the often lengthy collective bargaining process. He says they need to have more flexibility to deal with up to $1 billion in cuts he will propose in his budget next week and into the future.

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