March 9, 2011- Up to now, the Budget Repair Bill in Wisconsin has been frozen because all fourteen Senate Democrats will not return to the state to negotiate it. There's no quorum — the bill, which consists of many fiscal components, can't pass.
Republicans in the Senate are trying an end run around that now. They have called a conference committee meeting — which is open to the media — where the key fiscal component of the bill, a refinancing provision, will be stripped out. The collective bargaining component, the pay cuts, pension reform — all still there. That would allow the stripped-down bill to pass the Senate with no Democrats present.
This is incoherent in a number of ways. First, Gov. Scott Walker's argument for not putting the collective bargaining and union dues/formation reforms on the negotiating table has been, since the beginning, that they were necessary for letting local governments balance their budgets. They are, technically, not "fiscal components" — they just deal with huge sums of money. Second, Republicans punted on a voting reform bill two weeks ago because they did not want to split the fiscal portions of the bill — funding for IDs, for those who couldn't afford them — from the rest of it.
This is a desperation move. It's happening, say Democrats, before they read the new bill. Obviously, had Democrats not fled the state, the un-changed legislation would have passed last month. But this happens a day after e-mails from the governor's office floated the possibility — which Democrats didn't quite buy — of negotiation on the collective bargaining parts of the bill.
UPDATE: The meeting just ended with Republicans passing the rule by a 4-2, partisan margin. The new bill, said Senate GOP Leader Scott Fitzgerald, "would not trigger the special quorum argument of Article VIII, Second 8."
Democratic House Leader Peter Barca demanded that Fitzgerald explain what was being moved around in the legislation.
"This is the bill that passed the Assembly," said Fitzgerald. "There's nothing different from that."