Ground Shift: Are Wis. Republicans Now Getting Worn Down?

March 8, 2011 10:25 a.m.

The narrative in the Wisconsin political standoff over Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal and its anti-public employee union provisions seems to have shifted very quickly. Just two days ago, the media was abuzz with talk that the state Senate Democrats who had fled the state in order to block budget quorum might come back — and now, the chatter is about how some key Republican legislators could derail the bill.

On Sunday night, Dems were knocking back a Wall Street Journal report that they were soon to return. Instead, Minority Leader Mark Miller (D) called for a meeting with Walker at the state line.

In response, Walker and state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) blasted the Dems for the negotiations that had already gone on, and claimed that some of the Dems were on the verge of coming back — which only led to those same key Dems making clear that they weren’t splitting from the caucus.

But with the GOP’s efforts to wear the Dems down now stalling out, is it in fact Republicans who might be getting worn down? It appears that more Republican state Senators have been becoming critical of the package. This, too, could very well sputter out — but Dems only need three defections out of the 19-member GOP caucus to defeat the bill.State Sen. Dale Schultz has been publicly undecided since a week ago. Late last week, he sounded awfully critical of the bill — and indeed, tired of the whole controversy — in a radio interview: “All I know is, we’re not talking. We’re wasting valuable time about collective bargaining, which I don’t ever remember being a part of the last election whatsoever. But most of all, you know, to me, this just looks like the classic overreach we see every two years.”

And on Monday, state Sen. Robert Cowles told the Green Bay Press Gazette that Republicans should look at compromising with the Democrats, having already won the major financial concessions on union employees’ contributions to their health care and pensions. “The important part is the monetary concessions. That’s the part that helps balance the budget. The other things are less monetary in nature,” said Cowles. “It’s the challenge of the senate to go through those and find a conclusion on items that have little or no connection to finance.”

At the same time, though, the paper noted that Cowles wasn’t quite crossing over yet:

Cowles intends to vote with Republicans on Walker’s bill, though he understood why some might question its inclusion of the collective bargaining overhaul.

“I think once this is over with, and I think we all want to get it over with, then it’ll be time to do the armchair quarterbacking,” Cowles said. “Would they have gotten the concessions (on pensions and health care) without the other things in that bill? I don’t think so.”

Also on Monday, state Sen. Luther Olsen told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the Dems should be negotiated with:

Sen. Luther Olsen of Ripon, one of the Republicans facing a recall effort, said he was glad to see Walker talking about how his administration is talking with Democrats.

“They’re in the minority but holding some cards so you’ve got to negotiate, you can’t give up the whole ship,” Olsen said.

Olsen said he’s forwarded to the governor undisclosed ideas for compromise.

As TPM has noted, Olsen has previously called Walker’s plan “radical.”

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