The evolving legislative crisis in Wisconsin has illuminated the political symbiosis of the Democrat Party and Big Labor. Not just the public sector unions, but all unions acting in concert to dominate the political fortunes of Democrats.
Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO, graced Madison, Wisconsin with his presence. Trumka, who rose from being a miner and active member in the UMW union in Pennsylvania to becoming head of the largest labor organization in the country in 1995, has a history of being confrontational. In front of a crowd of some 25,000 union supporters, he supplied a remarkably accurate dramatization of Vladimir Lenin railing against the "fat cats" and "corporations." Trumka apparently views them as the sole motivating force behind the attempt of Governor Walker and the Republican majorities in the state's Assembly and Senate to balance their state's budget.
Wisconsin is no better off financially than any other part of the country, and it is struggling to maximize the public services it is able to provide to its citizens, while avoiding the only alternative available to them. The alternative would be to maintain the generous pension and healthcare levels currently enjoyed by Wisconsin's teachers, police, firefighters and other public employees, and balance the budget by laying off hundreds, if not thousands, of state workers. The ones with lower seniority, who are not protected in the same way union officials are protected from layoffs.
Into this cauldron of heated rhetoric, supplied free of charge by the unions with assistance reported to have been provided by the Democratic National Committee and the President's campaign arm, Organizing for America, President Obama himself has weighed in, stating his belief that the plans of Governor Walker and the Wisconsin legislature are an "assault on unions."
One of the motivations for President Obama to insert himself in this dispute is the simple matter that unions bankroll Democrat candidates and Mr. Obama has already said that he plans on raising $1 billion for his re-election effort in 2012. The website Opensecrets.org lists the top campaign contributors for the period 1989-2010. The aggregate political contribution by unions to Democrats during this period was a total of $480,000,000. That's nearly half a BILLION dollars. As the old saying goes, he who pays the piper, calls the tune. For a half a billion dollars, the unions should expect a full blown symphony. Perhaps an observation by Hans A. von Spakovsky, a Senior Legal Fellow of the Heritage Foundation and a former member of the Federal Election Commission, will help put the claims by Mr. Obama and Mr. Trumka that the union workers in Wisconsin are both oppressed and that unions themselves are under assault into some context. Mr. von Spakovsky has noted that:
From 2001 to 2010, Wisconsin taxpayers paid more than $8 billion for state employee health care coverage, while state employees contributed only $398 million, less than 5% of the total costs. From 2000 to 2009, taxpayers paid $12.6 billion for public employee pensions, while the employees only contributed $55.4 million, less than 0.5% of the total cost.
This means that, with a population of about 5,500,000 people, the average annual costs to each Wisconsin resident for public employee healthcare and pensions have been $140 and $250 respectively. Not per family. Per citizen. For a family of four, that means a total of $1,560 each and every year in an additional tax burden.
This is what Mr. Obama and Mr. Trumka view as union members being oppressed and why unions are trying to intimidate lawmakers and Governor Walker, and by proxy, every citizen of Wisconsin.
It should also be noted, in the spirit of recognizing clueless irony, the Democratic Senators in Wisconsin, who are currently fugitives from Madison, are in hiding as part of a concerted effort to prevent the pertinent legislation from coming to a vote. This sounds remarkably like the accusations of "obstructionism" hurled by Democrats in Washington against their Republican colleagues who tried to hobble the passage of Obamacare.
Another contrast between Wisconsin and Washington was on display during Governor Walker's press conference Friday evening. After making a relatively short statement of the situation as he saw it (which took about 10 minutes or so), the Governor took several questions from the assembled media.
What then is different in Madison from what we see every day in Washington? Two things, in fact.
First, the Governor was actually able to give straightforward answers to the questions.
Second, there wasn't a teleprompter in sight.