Madison, Wis. — Gov. Scott Walker, who has gained national attention for tangling with public-sector unions, won a key victory early this morning when Republicans in the state assembly passed his budget-repair bill by a vote of 51 to 17. The legislation now heads to the state senate, where Republicans hold a majority, though all 14 Democratic state senators continue to huddle in Illinois, blocking the chamber from reaching its necessary quorum.
“Day after day, assembly Republicans and assembly Democrats showed up and did the jobs they were elected to do,” Walker said in a statement following the vote. “After an unprecedented amount of debate, they continued to do their jobs by casting their votes. Republicans should be commended for their willingness to cast a vote that will fix this budget and future budgets.”
The lower-chamber vote took place after a 61-hour debate. For days, Democratic state representatives attempted to block a vote via an unofficial filibuster, railing nonstop against Walker and his plan. Countless amendments were proposed, only to be shot down. At one point, Democrats even tried to oust Rep. Bill Kramer, the assembly’s GOP speaker pro tempore, who oversaw the fracas. Republicans finally decided to cut off debate an hour after midnight. The vote came lightning fast: Many legislators reportedly had trouble voting before the gavel came down. Four Republicans voted against the bill, and only 13 lawmakers from the state house’s 38-member Democratic caucus voted at all.
Bedlam followed after the vote. Democrats became irate: Many echoed the chants of hundreds of labor activists sprawled throughout the state capitol. There were yelps, screams, groans; some vocally shamed Republicans, others called the process undemocratic. As the raucous scene unfolded, it was more like the British House of Commons than a staid state legislature.
Yet the early Friday vote unfolded with more drama than expected, especially after Democrats reportedly agreed on Thursday to limit their amendments and allow a midday vote. But when noon came and went, and Democrats continued to rail against the bill into the late evening, state Republicans decided that enough was enough. In a statement after the vote, Majority Leader Scott Suder, a Republican, noted that the vote “wasn’t the easy thing to do, but it was the right thing to do.” His fellow GOP legislators, wary of the frustrated protesters, left the capitol without addressing the press.
The assembly passage enables Walker to potentially pass his bill by the end of today or early this weekend, which would enable a component of the bill — refinancing the state’s debt — to be enacted before the fiscal-year deadline. But the Democratic state senators continue to refuse to return. Early Friday, hours after the assembly vote, the upper chamber convened to issue a “call of the house,” which allows state troopers, as they did Thursday morning, to look for the on-the-lam lawmakers at their homes. As Walker has repeated all week, it is time for them “come home” to vote on the bill. But according to the Wisconsin State Journal, Democrats will not budge and plan to remain in hiding in northern Illinois.
Walker’s bill would end collective bargaining for most government workers and require increased contributions to health and pension benefits. His believes that it is imperative to pass his fiscal package as is, since the state faces a projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall over the next two years. “This is a mess we inherited,” he said at a Thursday press conference. “It is not about the union bosses coming in from around the country; it is about protecting the taxpayers.”