The Walker Roadmap

Mike Konczal has an excellent post up on the three-pronged approach Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is taking in his stealth budget. In fact, he’s charted the whole thing out:

walker_roadmap

The assault on unions is currently the most obvious and contested part of this plan (despite the health of the public pension system in Wisconsin) but other aspects – like the no-bid contracts and privatization scheme – are now coming to light. The last, and perhaps most significant, is the attack on public services and particularly healthcare for the poor. Mike writes:

This is the most important thing that has gotten the least coverage. The administration of Medicaid would be moved away from the state legislation to be more directly under the control of the Governor’s office. People may be dropped right away and there could be extreme games of chicken with the Federal government over medicaid spending.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is currently being run by Heritage Senior Fellow Dennis Smith, who has been making his right-wing think tanker bones arguing that states should drop out of Medicaid, the long-time dream of the extreme right. It is telling that “Smith wouldn’t discuss Medicaid provisions in the upcoming budget bill” even though it’s all he’s been writing about for years.

Specifically, one of the last things he wrote had this talking point: “Congress and the Administration have enacted a sweeping overhaul of one-sixth of the American economy, dramatically expanding the scope of federal power….When governors and state legislators realize that they have been reduced to mere agents of and tax collectors for the federal government, bipartisan opposition from the states will be inevitable.”

This power grab by the Governor will be the beachhead for slashing medicaid rolls to record lows and planning the conservative opposition against health care reform more broadly. The people who elected the Governor deserve more information about what his ultimate goals are.

Similar efforts to slash the Medicaid rolls are happening in Arizona, and across the country.

This is blatant overreach on the part of conservatives who are coming at state budgets with all the drunken gusto of Tea Party fever. Walker wants to make any tax increase subject to a 2/3 majority in the legislature. And if you’re not willing to consider tax hikes to help balance the budget you’re just not serious about deficits, period. It’s just not possible to cut your way to a balanced budget while simultaneously slashing taxes for businesses and the wealthy. The myth that low taxes (when taxes are already historically low) will lead to business investment and job creation is just that – a myth. These myths have wormed their way into the conservative psyche, just like the myth that lower taxes will generate higher revenue.

Furthermore, it’s important to note that all these austerity measures and privatization schemes and slashing of state budgets are completely wrong-headed to begin with. A recession is simply not the right time to make deep cuts (and yes, I realize states can’t borrow money but they do have the ability to raise tax revenue). Austerity measures in Germany – once touted by conservatives as a model for economic recovery – have led to a slowdown in the German economy.

The only silver lining is that I think this overreach will lead to a backlash. Most Americans side with the unions in the Wisconsin fight. And I imagine even more would be up in arms about the no-bid contracts. Top that with severe cutbacks in Medicaid coverage, and you’ve done what the Democrats couldn’t do in 2010: mobilize the Democratic base.

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48 thoughts on “The Walker Roadmap

  1. Sad but true. The only thing missing is the pure venom at those terrible people who dare to be poor or benefit from one of the evil gov progs. I’m sure that will come. But of course D’s and R’s are all the same, some maroons manage to say.

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  2. We must resist the urge, however justified, to demonize Walker. He is hewing to his principles, spending his political capital on this issue, as Obama spent his on HCR.

    And like Obama, he will face a backlash. That seems inevitable. The GOP came to power in Wisconsin on the strength of the backlash against Obama. That which is washed in on the tide will wash out on the next tide. Walker would have been well-advised to work with his minority, as Obama worked with his, during the lame duck session, to make the best of a very bad situation.

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  3. Interesting, a “roadmap” that has us traveling in three directions simultaneously. This looks like the kind of thing that Jared Loughner would have put together.

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  4. For me, the most disconcerting aspect of Mr. Kain’s transformation is the emergence of a certain stridency, which I guess we have come to expect from converts. But it’s dissapointing nonetheless. Don’t get me wrong. I am no huge fan of civility in discourse. Instead, this post strikes me as… boilerplate.

    We see “assaults” and privatization “schemes.” Not privatization “plans,” see? Because people can only “scheme” to privatize services. And then there are the “attacks” on public services. Well… another word for some of the “public services” in question might be “entitlements.” And any look at the budgets will reveal the truth that at SOME time, we are going to need to address those entitlements, even if ED begins advocating for Richie Rich and his rich friends to begin paying 90 percent of the federal tax receipts instead of whatever they are paying today. Yesterday we had the fat cats making off with the “free lunch.”

    And then there’s this: “And if you’re not willing to consider tax hikes to help balance the budget you’re just not serious about deficits, period.”

    Not sure where to begin. What was Wisconsin’s budget 10 years ago? What is it today? What portion of the deficits are due to profligate spending? What portion are due to a lack of revenue? Is the state bringing in less than it did 10 years ago, adjusted for inflation? Or more? I don’t know. But I suspect he doesn’t either.

    Moreover, does being “serious, period” about deficits require a willingness to “consider” spending cuts? Which cuts? Has ED proposed any? Would he be willing to consider any? Or will each and every one of the proposals amount to a “scheme” and an “attack on public services”? Is the union willing to consider pay and benefit cuts? How “serious, period” are they about such things?

    It’s fair to argue that now is not the time for cuts. Or that the proposed cuts are too deep, or aimed at the wrong services. Or that taxes are too low. But as a reader, I can find a lot of those arguments in a lot of places. What I always valued in the writing here was a willingness to straddle the issue in an interesting way. Not “he said, she said,” or “objective” in any sense. But.. interesting. Perhaps a little unexpected. You can’t make a cult of iconoclasticity, but still.

    “A recession is simply not the right time to make deep cuts…”

    This is what I mean. There is nothing “simple” about the places where politics intersect with economics. Assuming away the other side with a “simply” and an “of course” and a few “schemes” and “slashes” and “periods” doesn’t do the issue justice.

    And this:

    “Most Americans side with the unions in the Wisconsin fight. And I imagine even more would be up in arms about the no-bid contracts.”

    Really? I defy you to go to a bar or a bowling alley or a PTA meeting and ask people for a one minute synopsis of the Wisconsis crisis. I suspect that maybe one person out of five would know that it has something to do with a union. And a governor or maybe a mayor or something. Maybe one in 20 would be able to “side” with anybody based on intelligent analysis.

    And no-bid contracts? Up in arms? ? You are basing the hopes of your new political team on a public backlash to no-bid contracts? Maybe so. Maybe so. But that sounds more like the work of someone who is playing for a “team” than thinking something through.

    Which is fair enough. Seriously. But it’s just not very… interesting. Perhaps I overvalue interesting. But there is something to be said for it, I think.

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      • First off I call it a scheme because that’s exactly what it is.

        I’ve never looked at it that way before.

        And actually polls show a majority of Americans side with the unions.

        Public Sector Unions? Or “Unions”? I support “Unions” but have some problems with some of the protections given to Public Sector Unions insofar as there is no mechanism other than Democracy to re-negotiate with the unions which strikes me as just as likely to result in capture as we find when corporations collude with the government against the folks buying the products.

        I am willing to project my views on the country at large despite my experience with regards to having done so with Libertarianism in general… as such, I’d like to see exactly what is meant by “a majority of Americans side with the unions”. My inclination is to say that it’s more nuanced than that.

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        • I haven’t written a huge amount here recently which is probably just as well. But, now is as good a time as any to recap what’s happened over the recent weeks and months.

          I have written in the past that the Republican party is the best hope for the return of prosperity to America. I haven’t written as much about what that prosperity might look like (assuming that it returns at all). I expect there to be substantial problems. It’s entirely plausible, maybe even likely, that developmentally disabled people lose important public-funded advocates, or that poor/borderline-poor people receive substandard medical care relative to the middle class, and so on.

          Prosperity doesn’t mean those problems go away. It means that the economy is successful enough to hope that we can mitigate them.

          There’s a quality to the current economy that’s something like Le Chanson de Roland, and for the purposes of this blog I’m thinking of Mark and Jaybird in particular. We’ll call in the Republicans if we have to, but it’s going to be the very last resort.

          That plan may or may not work (it didn’t work for Roland). They’re Republicans, not God. A lot of Americans voted for a lot of Democrats for a long time. We’re not going to get away from that for free.

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      • Strident, yes. Boilerpolate, no.

        As for polls that show Americans side with this or with that, great. For politicans and journalists who want to begin statements with “The American people want…” Polls aren’t entirely useless, but they are better used as tools other than bludgeons. Look at the poll. How many people you know can actually define “collective bargaining rights”? This isn’t a slam against this poll. I am sure Fox News will come up with something worded differently in short order and get a different result. What’s it tell us about how people will vote next year? I have no idea. Neither do you.

        I say a vanishingly small percentage of Americans understand what Wisconsin is about or even care. And about the same percentage know what a no-bid contract is or why they matter. (They usually don’t.) I say that the richest people in America pay a huge portion of the tax burden, but am open to the possibility that they should be paying more. I think that some public services should be privatized, some should not, but wonder how I can talk about such things without being a schemer.

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        • Fine, boilerplate. I can’t promise you a 100% batting average.

          I think we can privatize some things too but I think we should be very conservative in our approach. Some of these things are public for a reason, and profit and efficiency are not the most important considerations always.

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        • Actually, I don’t think our end-goals are that much different. I just don’t believe that we can achieve a truly limited state without much greater equality. I think the game is rigged to favor the rich – even though they do pay the most taxes. They also benefit the most from public infrastructure, trade agreements, interest rates, and most other government policies. In this sense, I see why a far more limited state would actually benefit many people. The trick is getting to the limited state that actually does benefit the average citizen, rather than getting to the limited state that only benefits the very powerful and well-connected. My support for organized labor is the one thing recently that has really, radically changed about my politics. And I see organized labor as a good way to have front-end equality worked out (i.e. pre-tax equality) rather than have to handle it all on the back-end through government redistribution.
           
          If I seem boilerplate or overly strident, it’s because I have changed my mind in two fundamental ways: one, I now believe a revival of the labor movement is essential to the process of creating a sustainable middle class; and two, while inequality in and of itself is not only not the problem but essentially inevitable, I see the inequality in this country as a symptom of structural inequities favoring the very rich. Much of this is a problem with how corporations and the government operate to benefit one another – in this sense I remain a libertarian, though I consider myself to be a left-wing libertarian due to my newfound support for labor. And last, I believe that in the interim between where we are now and the ideal we need to have programs in place that help the poor even if these are provided by the state.
           
          And finally, I think that local government is preferable to privatization that is handled by non-local actors (most of the time, not always). As I said previously, I prefer a local public library to one run by a big corporation. I prefer a local public school to one that depends on the good graces of the Broad foundation.

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          • E.D. –

            While I agree with you on the need for greater “front-end equality” (for all the reasons you list) and I agree that stronger unions are a good means toward that end, I’m curious about what other means you’ve considered.

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          • Mr. Kain, the problem with your “new” mindset is that you have subscribed to the idea of wealth and plenty as a zero-sum game. This is classic leftism.

            You can’t get your “equality” without a more intrusive state that takes from the rich to give to the poor. Your argument isn’t the least bit libertarian. That more “equality” means less government is simply untenable. You cannot wave the Equality Wand and have everything reset forever. Once you wave the Equality Wand [government intrusion], you must keep waving it forever, faster and faster.

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            • If not assuming that the only threat to “liberty” can come from the government is “leftist” then I think ED will gladly wear the label.

              This debate doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so assuming (just for the sake of argument, of course) that he is correct that “capital” (loosely defined) has too much power, what possible method is there of redressing this problem that doesn’t involve removing power from capital? Is there any coherent way to look at this that isn’t a zero-sum game?

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              • Is there any coherent way to look at this that isn’t a zero-sum game?

                One can put oneself behind a veil of ignorance.

                Let’s say that you live in America. You don’t know whether you’ll be rich or poor, black or white, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Miscellaneous, Atheist, male, female, or other. You just know that you will be born in the US. You don’t even know where, particularly. Maybe Alaska, maybe Wyoming.

                What year would you most like to be born in, knowing that you might be poor and black? Knowing you might be female? Knowing you might be gay?

                When I shuffle through the various upsides and downsides, I come to the conclusion that I’d always (without exception) rather be born later than sooner. The kids being born today? Man, they’re going to have access to a lot of stuff that I’m never going to have access to. I have access to a lot of stuff my grandparents couldn’t dream of dreaming of when they were my age.

                Heck, let’s not limit it to America.

                Let’s put you anywhere in the world. Maybe rich, poor, red, yellow, black, white, male, female, straight, gay, tall, short, or whtevs.

                All you get to pick is the year.

                Wouldn’t you pick, at least, the year you were born and not before? Aren’t you more likely to pick more recently than that than before?

                Doesn’t that indicate that there is more going on than rich people picking the pockets of the poor?

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                • That’s both extremely Panglossian and completely irrelevant to the point you claim to be addressing.

                  If I was being uncharitable, I’d suggest you’re telling the proles to shut up because they don’t know how well they have it these days.

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                  • Its relevant because if you answer “today” or “when I was born” it indicates you think your odds of a decent life are better today, which indicates there’s something more than a zero sum game going on.

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                    • Pooh, this is a really crucial point. Income distributions permit a first as well as second order analysis whereby increasing income disparities may be consistent with everyone’s income (and standard of living) going up. But the power imbalances that may (and usually do) result from that can only be understood on a first-order level: increasing the power of the wealthy necessarily entail less power for the non-wealthy.

                      So one important question is whether the already large but also growing power differential enjoyed by the wealthy is good or bad in a democracy such as ours. And it’s important to get very clear on the myriad and disparate values upon which that judgment can be based.

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                  • The point I claim to be addressing is the claim that this is a zero-sum game.

                    Let’s assume that it’s a zero sum game. Are the piles for these folks bigger than the piles for those folks today than they were X years ago?

                    Wouldn’t you rather be poor and black today than in 1933? Wouldn’t you rather be gay today than in 1955? Wouldn’t you rather be a woman today than in 1963?

                    My answer to all of these questions are “hells yeah”.

                    That indicates that if it is zero-sum, the piles have shifted in the favor of the downtrodden.

                    If it’s *NOT* zero-sum, which I don’t think it is, the answer to the question indicates that the piles are bigger than they used to be.

                    If I was being uncharitable, I’d suggest you’re telling the proles to shut up because they don’t know how well they have it these days.

                    Dude, I don’t tell people to shut up. I ask them questions that they then refuse to answer.

                    That’s an entirely different dynamic.

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            • Left-wing libertarian that supports unions?

              I think a comment like this reveals an ignorance of what libertarianism actually is. First and foremost, libertarianism accepts the premise that the best society is the one with the largest overall set of mutually consistent liberties. Second, it posits that minimizing government intrusions into the fabric of the social contract, which includes free and open markets, is the best way to achieve this.

              On its face, there is nothing inconsistent with libertarian principles and accepting that citizens have the right to organize to collectively pursue their individual goals. Such a right surely isn’t inconsistent with the basic rights of property. Furthermore, it’s only inconsistent if your understanding of libertarianism is very narrow: that unfettered pursuit of profit in unregulated private markets is the best way to maximize overall liberty.

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          • I’d really like to see you explain the reasoning behind your two fundamental changes of mind. How did you conclude that we suffer from structural inequities that favor the rich? And why do you think labor unions help? To me the story doesn’t hang together.

            “Structural inequities” is one of the empty phrases people use to handwave over the gaps in arguments. What exactly, mechanically is it that you think is diverting resources from the middle classes to the super rich? And how are unions going to stop it? Because what I see is that the super-rich (or at least the super-compensated) are concentrated in the executive suites of large companies and in finance. Such people are paid by investors who are managing money that ultimately belongs to ordinary households. To put it another way, if you really want a class warfare narrative here, they’re stealing your savings, not your wages.

            The alternative narrative I’ve seen in the comment threads and even some of your articles is that what we’ve seen is a straightforward regression in the relationship between capital and labor – the rich are able to live off investments because they’re taking money that would otherwise go to labor. But the empirical facts do not bear this out. Returns on almost all investments over the last 10 years have been uninspiring. Certainly well below what they were in the heyday of unionism.

            You might ask why it matters that the excess returns are going to the people who manage capital on the behalf of others rather than to those who own it. It matters because it affects whether unions will be effective. Unions divert money first from profits, and then from reinvestment, then from other costs. and then there isn’t any more, all other things being equal. One reason public sector unions succeed is that governments can keep generating revenue more or less indefinitely. If the money would otherwise have increased the firm’s value or been paid out in dividends to the shareholders, its fair to say labor is benefiting over capital.

            I can just about see, in a pinch, how a union might get the firm’s CEO to cut his salary to give the workers a payrise. But how are they going to get the managers of the investment firms who provide the capital to reduce their salaries? How are they going to get the trader’s at the investment banks who provide the insurance to take less risk so they won’t need a government bailout next time? They won’t.

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            • At Lloyds of London, when someone is created as a Name, a button is cut from his shirt and he is declared “”liable to his last shirt-button.”

              In ‘A Crack in the Edge of the World,’ Simon Winchester wrote:

              A once-wealthy friend of mine who lives in California became a Lloyd’s Name when he had sufficient in his bank to do so, and always scoffed generally at the idea that he was, theoretically, at personal risk down to his last shirt button. But the scoffing stopped in September 2001, with the World Trade Center attacks, and the heart-stopping realization that his Lloyd’s syndicate had underwritten coverage for both of the buildings and for all four of the crashed aircraft. His personal financial liability, per his understanding when he became a Lloyd’s Name, was from then on–and not theoretically but in practical fact–unlimited.

              He lives 3,000 miles away from the tragedy, in a small village beside a lake, a place where crime and violence of any sort are almost unknown. But since that September seldom has a month gone by without my friend–who is now long retired, in his eighties, and living with his wife what he once imagined would be a peaceful and prosperous old age–receiving from London an urgent demand for funds. The language of each message is always the same, always spare, exquisite in his blunt delivery of pain. Kindly wire, it always begins, a quarter of a million dollars–the sum is invariably the same–for settlement of such and such a claim, by noon on this coming Friday. No ifs or buts, no excuses, no delays. And so, quarter million by quarter million, his long-accumulated wealth has been steadily drained away. He is has sold all of his houses but for one modest cottage. He may have to sell this, too, and move into a rental apartment. He is now on the verge of total ruin. He seems outwardly phlegmatic, but his lip quivers when he tells his story. Yet this is what he had signed up for, he tells me; he hoped it would never come to this; but now that it has, he has no choice but to do as bidden, and it does not help matters to complain. Besides, he says, so many others suffered so very much more.

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              • I’m really surprised anyone still thought being a Name was a safe bet after the asbestos claims and “recruit to dilute”. Its a classic insider/outsider scam. Thanks for mentioning “A Crack at the Edge of the World” though – it sounds like a book I’d enjoy.

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    • But really thanks for complaining Sam. I hate to admit it, but not all of my posts are super interesting or iconoclastic. I’m not sure I have it in me to never be strident and always be interesting. The Walker thing pisses me off and so I’m writing about it that way. I fail to see the point in making it so personal.

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      • I apologize if it came off as personal. I guess it could have. I meant it instead to be about the writing and the work being done here. You do a lot of that work personally, so I can see that I might need to be more careful about how I come across. I honestly didn’t mean for any of it to be a personal slight.

        For what it’s worth, I struggle with a lot of the issues you are struggling with. I doubt my own convictions and assumptions quite a bit, so seeing your shift has been intriguing. I suspect that sooner or later, I will see you taking shots at your own team, whichever team that is, and challenging it to do better and all the rest. Perhaps it’s too early to expect to see that now. I understand that you are pissed off. Aren’t we all! But in my reading, the way to make something “personal” is to minimize the other side with those “of course” and “simply” and “but if you REALLY cared about X you would of course simply Y. And since you haven’t Y, we can conclude…” I’d much rather someone call me an idiot. As so many have.

        So.. it’s not a complaint. It’s an observation. I think it is interesting that not only the content of the arguments have changed, but so has the style. But maybe I am wrong about that, too.

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    • Excellent Sam M, a breath of fresh political aire. Thank you.
      I agree with FDR, Walker needs to prohibit fire, police, and teachers et al from collective bargaining, balance the state’s budget by reducing spending and not impose burdensome tax hikes on the state’s citizenry. These parasitic unions have been sucking the blood out of the state’s citizenry for too many decades.

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  5. A recession is simply not the right time to make deep cuts (and yes, I realize states can’t borrow money but they do have the ability to raise tax revenue).

    This is what is seen.

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    • This is what is seen.
       
      You know, I thought that too for a while, but I think Bastiat himself falls into his own trap. Playing that game is like looking at a picture within a picture within a picture. What is seen and what is not seen, and then another not seen behind that and so on.
       
      Re: public support of public sector unions, this is the Gallup poll.
       
      My own take is that until we can find a way to successfully run our society without a state, then state workers should have a way to bargain against the state themselves. I find Kevin Carson’s arguments extremely persuasive, and think his version of left-wing libertarianism (or mutualism or whatever you want to call it) is a desirable end-goal. But I find that conservative or contemporary libertarian politics are as likely to lead us toward a heavily corporatized neoliberal state than anything.
       
      A left movement focused on labor rights is more likely to eventually transform into something like Carson is talking about. And again, I think that’s a desirable end-goal, but in a world where capital is so heavily concentrated in the very few, and where political capital is also concentrated in the hands of a very few, I don’t find many of the arguments of the limited-government crowd very convincing.

      Furthermore, I do find most privatization efforts ‘schemes’. No-bid contracts is one problem; another is that it’s often as not just the government paying a monopolized interest to do their work for them with less oversight.

      I’ll bring up libraries again. If we want to ‘privatize’ libraries by making them public cooperatives, I’d be all for this. As it stands, though, a local public library is much closer to a local cooperative than a privatized, for-profit library run by a multi-national corporation.

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  6. The only silver lining is that I think this overreach will lead to a backlash.

    Agree with much of what you write, E.D., except this. The R’s may pay a small price, but it will not truly motivate the Democratic base until things get much worse. There are far too many people worried about losing their jobs amidst a dreadful job market and no savings, IMHO.

    I’ve seen the R’s overreach for my entire adult life, and they haven’t paid much (if any) of a price for it. The D’s once were the friends of the unions. This is no longer the case, to a certain degree. Obama has certainly been awfully quiet, as have most other big name D’s.

    I’d like to be wrong, though.

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