Updated at 9:36 a.m. on February 17.
Thousands of state employees and their supporters stormed Wisconsin's capitol building on Wednesday to protest proposed budget cuts to public employee health insurance and pension plans that would effectively cut their pay by 7 percent.
In addition to cutting benefits, Gov. Scott Walker (R) plans to weaken unions by curtailing their collective-bargaining rights. This is all in hopes of filling a $137 million hole in fiscal 2011 and solving deficits that could top $3 billion over the next two years.
In his two months as governor, Walker has made quite a name for himself -- his first action as governor was to give the state attorney general permission to sue the federal government over the health care law.
While Walker said he is making tough decisions in tough times, public employees -- including some of his supporters during his campaign -- are fighting back, taking over the statehouse and chanting to Walker, “Come out, come out, wherever you are.” A thousand demonstrators protested at Walker's home this week.
Walker isn’t alone in his support of the cuts to benefits. In an interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe today, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the cuts were necessary to get Wisconsin back in the black.
“State workers who have extremely generous benefits packages, [Walker’s] asking that they contribute 12 percent to their health care packages. It’s not a lot, it’s about half of what private-sector employees pay, and he’s getting riots. It’s like Cairo has come to Wisconsin,” Ryan said. “People should be able to express their way, but we’ve got to get this deficit and debt under control in Madison.”
President Obama is siding with the unions. In an interview with Milwaukee's NBC affiliate, Obama said everyone needs to make adjustments but Walker's plans seem like an attack on unions.
"Some of what I've heard coming out of Wisconsin, you're just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally. It seems more of an assault on unions," he said. "It's very important for us to understand that public employees... make a big sacrifice and make a big contribution, and I think it's important not to vilify them or suggest that somehow all these budget problems are due to public employees."
Obama is facing his own battle with public employees, as he proposed a two-year freeze on pay increases for federal agencies.
Walker might not be showing his face to the mob hanging outside his office, but he might be sending a few friends out to calm down the crowd. Walker warned that if the protests disrupt state services, he will deploy the Wisconsin National Guard.
The threats are not stopping the protesters, who include the teachers union, the police and firefighters, and public school students who were out of school on Wednesday due to the protests.