From NBC's Jason Seher
In a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing exploring state and municipal debt, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) challenged Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) to admit his legislative campaign aimed at stripping public employees’ collective bargaining rights did nothing to help solve his state’s budget deficit.
"If the unions agreed to the financial cuts you demand," Kucinich told Walker, "I don't understand how repealing collective bargaining rights for public workers shows us anything about state debt."
The longtime Ohio congressman accused Walker of politicizing an important state fiscal debate and claimed his legislation impacting unions saved no money whatsoever. Citing a document published by the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau asserting that Walker’s efforts to the repeal the rights of state workers were non-fiscal, Kucinich briefly clashed with committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), when he asked for unanimous consent to have the document included as part of the official record.
Issa said, while "we fully expect to include it in the record," he reserved the right to object to the document until it had been vetted by committee members. That outraged Kucinich.
"In the 14 years I've been on the committee," Kucinich said, "I've never had a chairman reserve the right to object to a document that is central to this hearing. It's a political issue!"
Kucinich continued his assault on Walker and other Wisconsin Republicans, blaming them for the $137 million budget shortfall that roused this entire debate. Wisconsin allowed their estate tax to expire on Jan. 1, 2008. Kucinich argued that had Wisconsin not let the estate tax expire, the revenue that would have been collected from wealthy estates would have totaled enough to cover the $137 million deficit. Concluding his questioning, Kucinich did thank Gov. Walker in the hearing -- if only backhandedly.
"Gov. Walker has done an inadvertent public service -- by exposing the mindset that is privatizing government and bringing the public sphere to the forefront. Is government going to be auctioned off to the highest bidder? To corporations who drive up the cost of government and services?"
Arguing that his reforms went a long way in protecting the middle class and the average Wisconsin worker, Walker said that he would never speak "an ill-word on any of these decent public workers," and that his measures protected public sector employees from massive layoffs. The budget deficit, he said, left him with a choice between making these reforms or handing out pink slips to thousands of public sector employees -- a choice he contends was relatively easy.
"If I have to choose between making these massive layoffs and making reforms," said Walker, "I'm going to choose those reforms."
Walker also asserted the unions were consistently unreasonable in negotiations, rejecting proposal after proposal. While Walker admitted that unions agreed to the measures impacting direct contributions to public employee pensions and raising their health insurance premiums, he maintained they failed to rein in local unions across the state. In the weeks that followed the initial negotiations, Walker said his administration quickly discovered state union leaders could not speak for the rest of the state as local unions settled their contracts without including increased health-care or pension contributions.