Playing a game of political chicken, Democratic senators who fled Wisconsin to stymie restrictions on public-employee unions said Sunday they planned to come back from exile soon, betting that even though their return will allow the bill to pass, the curbs are so unpopular they'll taint the state's Republican governor and legislators.
The Wisconsin standoff, which drew thousands of demonstrators to occupy the capitol in Madison for days at a time, has come to highlight efforts in other states to address budget problems in part by limiting the powers and benefits accorded public-sector unions.
Sen. Mark Miller said he and his fellow Democrats intend to let the full Senate vote on Gov. Scott Walker's "budget-repair" bill, which includes the proposed limits on public unions' collective bargaining rights. The bill, which had been blocked because the missing Democrats were needed for the Senate to have enough members present to consider the bill, is expected to pass the Republican-controlled chamber.
He said he thinks recent polls showing voter discontent with Mr. Walker over limits on bargaining rights have been "disastrous" for the governor and give Democrats more leverage to seek changes in a broader two-year budget bill Mr. Walker proposed Tuesday.
But Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Sunday night that the "budget repair" bill can not be amended at this point. But it's possible that over the next few weeks adjustments could be made to Mr. Walker's broader budget plan. "This bill will pass. The collective bargaining piece has to pass. If it doesn't the governor's budget doesn't work," he said.
Mr. Miller declined to say how soon the Democratic senators, who left for Illinois on Feb. 17, would return. He said the group needed to address several issues first—including the resolution Senate Republicans passed last week that holds the Democrats in contempt and orders police to detain them when they return to Wisconsin.
"We are now looking at returning to the state capitol and requiring the senators to take a vote and have them declare who they're with — the workers or the governor," Mr. Miller said.
So the end game is near. But just how soon will the Democrats return? As another Democratic senator, Bob Jauch, points out in the WSJ piece, his fellow state senator Julie Lassa is seven months pregnant. They can't keep this up much longer. "I think we have to realize that there's only so much we can do as a group to make a stand," Mr. Jauch said. "It's really up to the public to be engaged in carrying the torch on this issue."
As I noted the other day, the state could run out of Medicaid funding if the Democrats don't get back to work soon. So it looks like Walker will get his bill passed. And then this summer, a handful of Republican and Democratic senators will likely have to defend their actions before voters in recall elections.
Update: Democratic state senator Chris Larson says the WSJ took Miller's words "out of context" and there are no plans of returning soon: