The protesters in Wisconsin scored another victory today when the Republican Senate Majority Leader, Scott Fitzgerald, announced he would not hold a vote on the key anti-union bill until Democrats arrive. Earlier this morning there were reports that the Republican would hold a vote on the bill without the Democrats being present. Wisconsin’s Constitution requires 20 state senators to be present to hold a vote on any non-budgetary. There are only 19 Republican state senators, but the GOP could have potentially held a vote on the legislation by stripping out the collective bargaining provisions and voting on only the financial aspects of the bill. Then, when Democrats eventually were forced to return to vote on other legislation, the Republican would slip the collective bargaining provision back in through an amendment and pass it with their majority. The method had the potential to ruin the Democrats plan to force Governor Walker (R-WI) to negotiate on collective bargaining rights. However, the Republican plan appears to have failed due to a lack of support from their own members.
There are real signs that the Republicans are beginning to crack under the public pressure exhibited by the protests in Madison. Last weekend saw the largest protests yet, with over 60,000 people coming out to express opposition to the bill. Thousands are still camped out, literally, in the Capitol Building to make their presence known. One of the more moderate Republicans, State Senator Dale Schultz, has brought up a compromise proposal that would only take away collective bargaining rights from the unions until 2013. Currently Governor Walker’s bill would strip unions of their collective bargaining rights permanently. While the unions were still unwilling to accept Schultz’s compromise, his willingness to even bring forth a new idea was seen as a sign of moderate Republicans defecting from Walker.
Today’s announcement by Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald is yet another sign that the Republicans are beginning to come apart on the issue. By all indications Republicans could have passed the bill through the budgetary rules if all 19 of their members voted as a block. Talking Points Memo has suggested, though not confirmed, that Fitzgerald chose to not pursue that option because moderate Republicans were unwilling to go along.
If Democrats get just three Republicans to join their side they would be able to vote down the bill, or amend it to take out the collective bargaining provisions. The public employees unions in Wisconsin have actually agreed to the financial aspects of Gov. Walker’s bill, which would require union employees to contribute more toward their pensions and health plans. What the legislative battle is really all about is the right of the unions to be able to collectively bargain in the future for pay raises, benefits, or better working conditions. Many believe that the unions will essentially be powerless without their collective bargaining rights.