Episode 115 – GOP Presidential Politics, Unions and Budget Shell Games

Jeff and Glenn make no friends this week in taking on everything and everyone. They first explain why the GOP field is thin and hurting its chances of victory in 2012 through an apparent lack of organizing, fundraising and hiring. With Sen. Thune out, Huckabee likely not running, Daniels slow to start and Palin in her own orbit, where is this field headed? They also take on Republicans in Congress for the imposter that is posing as a budget cutting bill, explaining that there is indeed no budget for this fiscal year. They chide the Republicans in the House for passing this bill, knowing that it would never become law, and take on all Members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans — for not working together to pass a budget and fund the government in a coherent and responsible manner. How would they like it if their livelihood was funded on the basis of a series of continuing resolutions? It’s no way to run a business, or a government. They also explain why raising the retirement age and means testing Social Security needs to be discussed if we ever want to bring our fiscal house in order. In a surprising move, Jeff — the show’s stalwart Progressive – takes on public employee unions, specifically teacher’s unions – over the policy of tenure, and notes that FDR himself was opposed to public employee unions as standing in the way of the prudent operation of government. They understand why tenure was created, but forcefully argue why it is an outdated model now, especially in a struggling economy. A strong union backer, Jeff also chides Gov. Walker for elevating this issue to the point where there can be no reasonable discussion or conclusion that moves policy forward.

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6 responses to “Episode 115 – GOP Presidential Politics, Unions and Budget Shell Games

  1. I think there is definitely a debate to be had about public unions, but do it separate of the budget. Let the workers at least negotiate what will replace unions. Reducing their pay, while taking their unions, with no negotiation is just dumb. I wish I could be more eloquent but I can’t bring myself to do anything more than just shake my head anymore. If the governor was a decent politician, he would take out the collective bargaining, pass the budget, then have a discussion about public unions. Dissolve the union, but it needs to be replaced with some system that promotes basic worker rights. If he just dissolves unions, what will stop him from cutting more from them?

    Also, why does no one talk about raising the social security cap? I know its a pension system, but wouldn’t a cap raise be the path of least resistance when dealing with Social Security? The polls I have seen show that people are in favor of raising taxes, before raising the retirement age. A democrat could make the argument that he is just trying to make the tax “fair” by making everyone pay the same percentage of their income to social security. Maybe this wouldn’t pass, but its worth a try, I mean Republicans just convinced congress to pass a tax cut extension for the rich, while claiming they care about the deficit, because its “fair”. I can’t wait until a politician realizes that if you come out and own an issue from the start, that you control the conversation and you can actually do something. Arguing that a blue collar worker pays SS tax on 100% of his salary, while a stock broker pays on 10% of his salary, seems like an easy sell to me.

  2. Dan – here’s why I think that someone like Walker can’t accept coming to the table to negotiate with the unions, and I think he’s doing a horrible job of communicating this. Seeing him on the Sunday shows today, I think I figured it out.

    Walker was the county commissioner in Milwaukie for a number of years. There he saw first hand that basically the public unions have much more power than he did, or any mayor in an average state for that matter. So when it comes to bargaining, there is none, the union just gets to say no and the mayor or commissioner has few choices, layoff’s or fee increases. Since no one likes to layoff, they would choose fee increases, service cuts, debt, or maybe a modest give back from the union. What kept happening is the municipalities had no choice but to make more promises to the unions that they had no way to pay for, or risk getting voted out when the union uses their dues (essentially taxpayer money) to wield political power. Which is why FDR was vehemently against unions in the public workforce.

    So if I understand what he’s trying to say (I leave it to you to believe or disbelieve him) is that there is no such thing as bargaining when it comes to public sector unions, they basically hold all the power over municipalities. The fact is that the unions have total control over the agenda based on legislation and there is no way to re-negotiate a contract without voiding it, or suspending collective bargaining. He’s looking at the 2-3 year $3B budget gap and he knows that the only way to close it is to re-negotiate all union contracts. He further knows that the only way to do that is to turn the tables and take power away from the unions and put it in the hands of the mayors and county commissioners.

    Indiana did this 6 years ago and its largely credited for their fiscal turn-around.

    You have to look at it from the exactly opposite counter-intuitive perspective. This is not a government wielding power over the unions and trying to abuse them. This is a state trying to return the balance of power from the unions back to the county commisioners.

    It should not surprise us that at the federal level, public unions do not have collective bargaining rights.

  3. Great example of the negative impact of collective bargaining on state finances and public safety. Patterson New Jersey is about to lay off 30% of its police force (Patterson is not a safe place by-the-way) to balance their budget. Why – after raising property taxes 29%, they still can’t balance the budget. And because the Police Union has collective bargaining rights, they just get to say NO to the mayor request for additional cuts.

    So instead they will get laid off, and Patterson will be a more dangerous place.

    Make sense? See the story here. Just saw the mayor interviewed on local TV and puts the blame solidly on the inability to re-negotiate the union contracts.

  4. I agree we need to have a discussion about public unions, I’m just saying this governor is doing it wrong. If he is so confident that his argument is valid, then put it up separate of the budget. Another problem I have is the fact he just cut corporate taxes. Corporate taxes are not the reason they aren’t in Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s problem is location, population density, and education. Minnesota’s corporate tax rate is 2% higher than Wisconsin’s and yet more corporations are there. The Twin Cities is twice as large as Milwuakee, is on the Mississippi (Chicago trumps Milwuakee on Lake Michigan), and has a more educated population. I struggle to see how lowering the corporate tax rate will solve these problems. Yet corporations are asked to pay less, while teachers make less.

    So, I believe the governor is ruining any legitimate argument he may have had. He got the financial concessions and is still pushing the end of collective bargaining rights, with no debate and no means of replacement. Its the same problem federal Republicans are having with health care. The my way or the highway attitude will just alienate people that may have helped you get your initiative passed. The governor should come to the table with a system to replace collective bargaining, because people have legitimate concerns if they lose those rights.

  5. How about just a temporary suspension of collective bargaining? Or a pre-negotiated deal for all the cities and towns that both parties will honor for a certain period of time? That would work too.

    Ironic though that Ohio just passed this.

  6. None of this conversation or the podcast really covered the whole problem with this debate over public unions. This argument is not mayors and counties vs. the unions. This argument is the public trust vs. privitization of resources. Do unions need to make concessions during hard times? Certainly that is fair, but should not also the private contractors getting paid to do the same jobs in other parts of government have to make sacrifices also? Fairness and shared sacrifice are pretty words spouted by some but when in the history of man has that ever really been the case? The founders of this country were the rich elite of the time and teh rulers of this country are the same today. How many public union workers could afford to self finance a campaign like a lot of these candidates in both parties can do? My point is that the fight is really about priorities. Do you believe that the govt. has certain responsibilities to protect the public trust, things like environmental laws, health care for veterans, food safety and yes even gun laws. Or do you believe that the government is the problem and that private corporations can provide the same service for a profit, can self regulate like the banking industry didn’t and the oil and chemical industry will just not pollute just because they say they won’t. This about the Republican party advocating for the privitazation of everything the government does even the military where now we have a majority of military roles belonging to private contractors in a war zone. First deny rights to unions, then under budget emergency throw out the contracts, then give the jobs to private companies that pay less so that a few people can make a profit. Teachers may make 40 – 50,000 a year after they get a masters degree but no one talks about the fact that they also have 100,000 in student loans to pay off before they ever even break even and continuing education costs that come out of pocket. Why are these people the enemy? The fight is really that a relatively few business owners stand to take profits from our tax dollars vs. teachers, firefighters and police officers earning a decent wage with no profit motive.

    This debate seems to focus too much on talking points and not enough on facts. Take the bill that is pending in Michigan from “small govt. conservatives” (http://michiganmessenger.com/46807/constitutionality-of-emergency-manager-powers-questioned). This is the governor appointing 1 person who can dissolve unions, dismiss elected officials and even dissolve city’s and town’s. How can anyone still believe that these people are small government conservatives?

    I was just thinking that you can almost predict what the Republicans are going to do by what Fox news is trying to accuse Obama of doing. Fox: Obama will redistribute your wealth. Republican: Take tax dollars from schools and give to corporations (http://thinkprogress.org/2011/03/07/rick-scott-teacher-pay/). Fox: Obama’s big government will take away your rights. Republicans: Union breaking laws and city dissolving power to the governor of a republican state (see earlier link). Well I think thats enough to make my point even though there are other similar situations.

    I guess I needed to vent a little here but my first point is the same. This debate is NOT about our budgets and the debt. This is a battle of the bosses vs. the workers. A battle of corporate profit vs. the public good. Some things just shouldn’t be for profit because it provides the wrong incentives.

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