Budget-cutting tensions in the nation's capital and at statehouses in Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states came to a head today with partisan finger-wagging by House Democrats and Republicans.
Speaker John Boehner led the GOP in lashing out at President Obama's “allies," who he says are backing “Greece-style” protests in Madison, Wis.
But Democrats led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said they are standing “in solidarity” with state public employees in Wisconsin who are “fighting for their rights,” and also warned that the federal government itself could be on a path to a shutdown of services if Boehner and other Republicans continue to draw “lines in the sand” on national budget issues.
“There is a certain philosophy and movement being played out all across the country,” said House Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn, D-S.C.
“I hope the American people are watching this debate here, or watching these new governors in Wisconsin and Ohio, and see which party is the party of workingmen and -women, who are keeping this country afloat,” Clyburn said.
Boehner suggested that the American people recently saw something like the protests in Wisconsin.
“When the American people watched the people of Greece take to the streets to protest cuts to unsustainable government programs, they worried it might foreshadow events in our nation’s distant future, but today, we see the same sort of protests on the streets of Madison, fueled by President Obama’s own political machine,” Boehner said in a statement.
Boehner was referring to published reports that the White House has coordinated closely with the Democratic National Committee’s field-activities arm, Organizing for America, as well as with state and national union officials, to help mobilize thousands of protesters in Madison to protest GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget repair bill” and plan to strip state workers of rights to collectively bargain.
Walker was unrepentant. In a Friday evening press conference, he vowed to push ahead.
"I told the voters what I would do to get Wisconsin working again," Walker said. "We are going to do what it takes to get this budget on track."
Boehner does not specifically mention events in other states, such as his home state of Ohio, where union supporters have also gathered in force at the Capitol in Columbus to oppose a state Senate proposal to overhaul collective bargaining.
But Boehner accused OFA of “colluding with special-interest allies across the country to demagogue reform-minded governors who are making the tough [budget] choices that the president is avoiding.” He added that “the president should make it clear to his friends that the people of Wisconsin, and states across America, can handle their own affairs without Washington special-interest money and meddling.”
The DNC’s Hari Sevugan responded: “This is a grassroots story, not a Washington one. Our volunteers in Wisconsin were getting involved and asked us to let others in the state know what was happening. Our role in this is being exaggerated by others to distract attention from the passionate grassroots activism that is being displayed on the ground in Wisconsin.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney, when asked today about Boehner’s comments, told reporters that Obama “is very understanding of the need for state governments, governors, state legislatures to reduce spending, to be—to make tough choices, to be fiscally responsible. He’s doing that at the federal level, and he understands that states need to do that at the state level.” But Carney added that the president “feels very strongly that we need not to make this an assault on the collective-bargaining rights of workers in a given state.”
Pelosi said during an afternoon press conference: “I stand in solidarity with Wisconsin workers fighting for their rights,” and for fairness and opportunity.
She and other top House Democrats lashed out at Republican efforts in Washington. They pointed particularly to the scope of spending cuts being debated on the House floor today, and to declarations by Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that Republicans will not agree to another short-term extension of spending for the fiscal year that ends on September 30 without cuts to current spending levels.
“We don’t believe [in] Republicans or Democrats drawing lines in the sand about what’s going to happen. Our goal is to make something happen that prevents a closing down of government,” Pelosi said. “The country cannot afford the luxury of a political standoff.”
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said he will work hard with Republicans and Democrats “to make sure that we do not shut down our government.”
“We don’t want to do that. I hope our Republican colleagues don’t want to do it,” he said. “But if the posture they take is 'our way or no way,' then it is possible that it will happen.”