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President Obama thrust himself and his political operation this week into Wisconsin’s broiling budget battle, mobilizing opposition Thursday to a Republican bill that would curb public-worker benefits and planning similar protests in other state capitals.
Obama accused Scott Walker, the state’s new Republican governor, of unleashing an “assault” on unions in pushing emergency legislation that would change future collective-bargaining agreements that affect most public employees, including teachers.
The president’s political machine worked in close coordination Thursday with state and national union officials to get thousands of protesters to gather in Madison and to plan similar demonstrations in other state capitals.
Their efforts began to spread, as thousands of labor supporters turned out for a hearing in Columbus, Ohio, to protest a measure from Gov. John Kasich (R) that would cut collective-bargaining rights.
By the end of the day, Democratic Party officials were organizing additional demonstrations in Ohio and Indiana, where an effort is underway to trim benefits for public workers. Some union activists predicted similar protests in Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
DNC Caught Organizing Wisconsin Protests
The Democratic National Committee’s Organizing for America arm — the remnant of the 2008 Obama campaign — is playing an active role in organizing protests against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to strip most public employees of collective bargaining rights.
OfA, as the campaign group is known, has been criticized at times for staying out of local issues like same-sex marriage, but it’s riding to the aide of the public sector unions who hoping to persuade some Republican legislators to oppose Walker’s plan. And while Obama may have his difference with teachers unions, OfA’s engagement with the fight — and Obama’s own clear stance against Walker — mean that he’s remaining loyal to key Democratic Party allies at what is, for them, a very dangerous moment.
OfA Wisconsin’s field efforts include filling buses and building turnout for the rallies this week in Madison, organizing 15 rapid response phone banks urging supporters to call their state legislators, and working on planning and producing rallies, a Democratic Party official in Washington said.
The @OFA_WI twitter account has published 54 tweets promoting the rallies, which the group has also plugged on its blog.
Wis. governor: GOP won’t be ‘bullied’ by union bill protesters
By Jordan Fabian – 02/18/11 07:55 AM ET
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) says his party has been emboldened by massive protests against his controversial budget plan.
Walker said demonstrators who filled the state capitol building in Madison and the boycott by state Senate Democrats — some of whom fled the state in protest — have steeled the resolve of members of his party.
“If anything, I think it’s made the Republicans in the Assembly and the Senate stronger,” he told Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren in an interview Thursday night. “They’re not going to be bullied. They’re not going to be intimidated.”
Walker also fired back at President Obama, who sided with the public employees, saying on Fox News Friday, “We are focused on balancing our budget. It would be wise for the government and others in Washington to focus on balancing their budgets, which they are a long way off from doing.”
The unrest in Wisconsin has attracted attention from national lawmakers and political figures, who have incorporated the state’s tussle over Walker’s budget proposal into the debate over the federal government’s fiscal woes.
Public-sector workers are upset with the plan, which calls on them to pay to receive pension and health benefits and removes collective bargaining rights for some.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) issued a statement backing Walker’s proposal, saying governors like Walker “are daring to speak the truth about the dire fiscal challenges Americans face at all levels of government, and daring to commit themselves to solutions that will liberate our economy and help put our citizens on a path to prosperity.”
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, meanwhile, has called the plan an “assault” on the middle class and compared Walker’s plan to drastic cuts House Republicans in Washington want to make.
“This federal budget madness echoes pound-foolish actions we’re seeing in state after state, where Republican legislators and governors elected with lucrative CEO support are ignoring the jobs crisis and playing politics as usual with the lives of working families,” he wrote in a Huffington Post op-ed.
Wisconsin Democrats in Congress have called for the plan to be taken off the table. President Obama on Thursday weighed in, also accusing Walker of waging an “assault” on unions.
Walker’s words are his latest attempt to goad state Democrats back to the capitol to vote on his plan. He held a press conference on Thursday afternoon, urging them to return to the state after some fled to neighboring Illinois in order to avoid state law enforcement from bringing them back to Madison.
Asked if he has the authority to retrieve them out-of-state, Walker said, “That’s a really big question for us.
“I mean, the bottom line is very — very much similar to when you’ve had redistricting battles, lawmakers go to other states, as well, from other states,” he said. “I think in Texas and Oklahoma years ago, that happened. Again, I hope it doesn’t get to that. That would be ridiculous.”
— This post was updated at 9:31 a.m.
A leading Wisconsin senator who fled to Chicago with fellow Democrats says they could stay out of Wisconsin for days or even weeks.
Senate Democrats are boycotting a vote on a bill that would strip public sector workers of their collective bargaining rights.