Wisconsin governor Scott Walker told THE WEEKLY STANDARD this evening that it is indeed possible for Senate Republicans to vote on the collective bargaining portion of his budget repair bill with a simple majority of senators present. "You could technically do it,” Walker told me, but he said he's reluctant to do it. Why?
“First of all, I’m an eternal optimist. My hope is still that in the end … Senate Democrats eventually feel the need from the public to come back and debate this bill.”
Pressed further on whether or not he'd consider voting on the collective bargaining separately in the future, Walker deflected the question and said he's currently committed to keeping the bill intact:
TWS: Is there any consideration that, in the future, you might split off and vote on this collective bargaining portion separately?
Walker: I still think it’s important to keep it intact. Because one [part of the bill] goes with the other. If you fail to get one, it makes it hard to balance the rest of the budget. So our hope, our focus is still on trying to figure out a way to make it possible for those state senate Democrats to get back.
There may be a couple unspoken reasons why Walker is reluctant to use this maneuver. First, Democrats may very well be hurting themselves in terms of public opinion every day that they stay hiding out in Illinois. Almost every major newspaper in the state has called on them to return. Public opinion may eventually drive them back to Madison. And voting without them present might look heavy-handed. It may be best reserved as a measure of last resort.
Second, Democrats and some in the media would likely claim that if the collective bargaining vote doesn't fall under the three-fifths quorum requirement for fiscal bills, that proves that the collective bargaining portion doesn't have anything to do with balancing the budget, it's simply about busting the unions.
That claim would be stupid because it's not true. But that wouldn't stop a lot of people from making it, and that would make a lot of Republicans reluctant to vote on the stand-alone collective bargaining bill.
The collective bargaining portion is related to balancing the budget. It would give school districts and municipalities the power to make changes to their employees benefits, thereby making up for the money they'll lose in state aid this year. So the collective bargaining portion would help save money, it just doesn't directly fall under the category of bills that require three-fifths of senators to be present.
Whatever the reason, Walker has no interest in voting on the collective bargaining part of his bill right now. But that might change if this impasse drags on for weeks.