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We know that Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker is framing his bid to roll back public sector worker rights as a necessary measure of fiscal austerity. And we know that's basically bogus. But how bogus? And how accurate are the dire warnings of fiscal crisis? And how standard are the tools Walker's using to address it?

The answers in order: very, overblown, and unconventional.

"Unconventional or nuclear, depending on your point of view," said Pat Kreitlow, a former Democratic senator in Wisconsin, who helped pass the state's current budget.

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More than a day after their decision to go AWOL, it's still unclear as to whether Wisconsin's Democratic Senators will return to Madison.

And on FOX's Studio B With Shep Smith Friday afternoon, State Sen. Jon Erpenbach put the ball firmly in Gov. Walker's court, when asked what it would take for the missing Dems to come back.

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Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) has announced he will retire and not seek reelection in 2012, opening up another Democratic Senate seat in a swing state.

Bingaman was first elected to the Senate in 1982, defeating a Republican incumbent. On Election Day in 2012, he will be 69 years old.

"It's obviously not easy to make the decision to leave the Senate," Bingaman told a press conference in Albuquerque. "There's obviously important work to be done. There's important work that still remains to be done today, and there will be important work that remains to done at the end of this Congress. But that will undoubtedly be true at the end of every future Congress, as well. I think the simple truth is there is no ideal time to leave the Senate."

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By a vote of 240-185, the House passed Rep. Mike Pence's (R-IN) amendment to strip Planned Parenthood of its federal funding.

According to MSNBC, ten Democrats voted to pass the measure, while seven Republicans voted against it.

The bill is not likely to make it through the Senate, where the Democrats have the majority, or to survive a veto by President Obama if it comes down to it.

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House Democratic and Republican leaders traded jabs over the possibility of a government shutdown Friday -- as the two sides remained deeply divided on how far to go in slashing government programs.

The House continued slogging through dozens of amendments to a bill that would cut federal spending by $61 billion over the next six months, and it's unlikely they'll be able to come to an agreement with Senate Democrats on the numbers before their deadline of March 4.

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Appearing Friday afternoon on Fox News, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) invoked the specter of Greece's financial collapse, and the bold example of how President Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers in the 80s, as examples of how Wisconsin Republicans should hold strong against the public employee unions and teachers who have called in sick in protest of Republican Gov. Scott Walker's budget and its anti-public union proposals.

In an otherwise very friendly interview, FOX's Megyn Kelly briefly took the devil's advocate position and told Bachmann that the unions would say they're being treated unfairly, with a bill being rushed through that would undo decades of protections, and that they have the support of the White House and the protestors in Madison. So what would Bachmann say to that?

"They have the support of the White House. But I don't believe that they have the support of the people of Wisconsin," Bachmann responded. "Again, remember what we're talking about. These are public servants -- they serve the people of Wisconsin.

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1||February 18, 2011: After Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) introduced legislation to drastically roll back public employee unions' rights, all 14 of the state's Democratic Senators hit the road, leaving the Senate without a quorum -- the number of legislators necessary for the Senate to take any action.

On Thursday, the Senate chamber in Madison, Wisconsin remained empty. Until at least one Democratic legislator returns, the Senate can't move forward with the bill. ||Mark Hoffman/MCT/Newscom&&

2||Protesters pounded on the Senate doors on Thursday. Thousands of people have poured into Madison's streets this week in opposition to the bill, which would eliminate almost all collective bargaining powers from the state's public employees. ||Mark Hoffman/MCT/Newscom&&

3||Before leaving the state, Wisconsin State Sen. Lena Taylor (D) posted a coy message on her Facebook wall that read, in its entirety, "brb." ||Michael Sears/MCT/Newscom&&

4||Demonstrators again flooded the state Capitol building on Thursday, as they have done since Tuesday. ||Tom Lynn/MCT/Newscom&&

5||Thousands more rallied outside, some of them chanting "Kill the Bill." ||

6||One man dressed as Captain America. No word on whether he used his boomerang shield to slice through the bill. ||

7||Some protesters made creative signs to express their opposition||

8||||Other protesters held simpler signage. ||Kristyna Wentz-Graff/MCT/Newscom&&




Ohio's senior senator praised state Democrats in Wisconsin on Friday for taking a firm stand against legislation to roll back public worker rights. And he said he expects to see similar opposition from Dems in his own state to legislation making its way through the Ohio legislature that mirrors the controversial Wisconsin bill.

"I think they're going to fight back, and I think they're figuring right now what to do," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) told me during an interview in his Capitol Hill office.

Brown, a progressive, and committed supporter of organized labor, said that the only way for Democrats to beat back Republican plans to end collective bargaining for public sector workers is by maximizing their leverage.

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Wisconsin state Sen. Julie Lassa, one of the Democrats who fled the state in order to block the three-fifths quorum for Republican Gov. Scott Walker's budget and its anti-public union proposals, said on MSNBC Friday that public employees are willing to make sacrifices -- but that Walker isn't willing to negotiate with them.

Lassa was recently an unsuccessful Democratic nominee for the House during the Republican wave of 2010. She ran for the seat vacated by longtime Democratic Rep. David Obey that was won by Republican Sean Duffy. Lassa remained a member of the state Senate, however, as her seat was not up for election -- and she is now a fugitive from politics, along with 13 other Dem state senators.

During a phone interview, MSNBC's Contessa Brewer asked Lassa for her opinion of concerns that some people have, that benefit agreements for public employees were "crushing" state and local budgets. "Should there be -- maybe this is not the way to do it -- but should there be a reformation when it comes to the way that unions approach, especially public workers' jobs?"

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Earlier Friday, Wisconsin Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D) directed some sharp words at Republicans from the floor of the Assembly's chamber, at a moment when he wasn't even supposed to be speaking. Democratic members of the Assembly are in the Capitol even as their 14 counterparts in the Senate are still sticking to the walkout they initiated Thursday.

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