By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Campaigning last year for Republican vice presidential hopeful and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan in Waukesha, Gov. Scott Walker pointed to a sign boldly noting the $16 trillion-plus national debt.
Walker looked at the hefty number, as most conservatives do, with an expression of contempt, before introducing his friend and fellow budget hawk Ryan to the Republican faithful.
But conservative icon Walker, known for walking softly and carrying a big budget ax, is calling on President Obama to stop the sequester.
While hard-core conservatives cavalierly say bring on the $85 billion in automatic cuts to federal programs – an artificial trigger spurred by the utter inability of congressional Republican leadership and Obama to come to terms on a deficit-reduction plan – Walker isn’t ready to go over that cliff. Especially if the budget cuts hurt Wisconsin. And, according to all kinds of doomsday predictions from the Obama administration and liberal organizations, this is going to hurt.
In his weekly radio address Thursday, Walker said the hot topic at this week’s National Governors Association meeting was the effect the federal government’s sequestration, presumably set to begin on Friday, would have on the states.
“I asked President Obama to offer a more reasonable alternative to the arbitrary cuts contained in the current sequestration plan,” Walker said. “So far, the President has resisted offering a reasonable alternative.”
The governor said he will “continue to put pressure on the President and politicians in D.C. to reduce fraud, waste, and abuse in our federal government in a way that makes sense and avoids the type of arbitrary cuts contained in the current sequestration plan.”
What is the governor’s “reasonable alternative?” Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie repackaged part of Walker’s radio address in answering the question.
“Governor Walker believes cutting fraud, waste and abuse in the federal government would be better than moving forward with the arbitrary cuts contained in the current sequestration plan,” Werwie wrote in an e-mail response to Wisconsin Reporter. He provided no details.
Walker, the conservative rock star some pundits see as itching for a presidential run in 2016, while blaming Obama for the ticking time bomb of sequestration, is joining a chorus of fellow conservative governors calling for a halt to the automatic budget cuts. The same governors who, like Walker, have railed against Washington’s bloated, out-of-control spending.
“If GOP members of Congress have finally (and mostly reluctantly) signed on to the reality of sequester cuts, the country’s Republican governors seem a lot more bent out of shape at the idea of losing various crumbs from federal coffers,” writes Nick Gillespie, editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason TV, the online platforms of libertarian magazine Reason, in his piece headlined, “Small-government governors getting all pissy about sequester cuts.”
Gillespie takes aim at Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, perhaps best known for her hard-line stance on illegal immigration and for wagging her finger at Obama as the president stepped off Air Force One.
Brewer, speaking on “Face the Nation,” noted her state would be hit particularly hard by cuts to the border control budget, Gillespie wrote.
“We don’t like increases in taxes,” she said. “But … we know we have to be pragmatic. We know that there has to be some type of compromise.”
Republican governors Rick Perry of Texas and Robert McDonnell of Virginia, too, sound noncommittal on whether they would accept new tax increases to avoid the budget cuts, Gillespie said.
“On the state and federal levels, the GOP might do well to consider the notion that they should take their own rhetoric seriously and actually push for, you know, smaller government across the board,” Gillespie writes. “Not smaller government except for defense, or when it comes to policing gay sex, or targeting firms that might hire illegal immigrants, or opposing drug legalization.
“There’s a goddamn large number of people out there (read: majority of voters) who have disaffiliated from either the Democrats or the Republicans who say they want a government that does less and costs less.”
There seems to be some disagreement among Wisconsin Republican leadership about sequestration.
At a press conference Thursday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told Wisconsin Reporter he hopes the sequester goes through.
“We need more. People realize we have a problem, and it’s about time we face up to it,” said Vos, who also blamed Obama for his what he sees as the president’s intransigence, asserting Obama needs to “lead and find consensus” as Vos says he has done as speaker.
It’s not like Walker hasn’t turned down federal money before. He made a conservative splash in the days after his election in 2010, saying he would reject more than $800 million in federal money for high-speed rail he saw as a government boondoggle. He did the same a couple of weeks ago in passing on what is projected to be worth $4.4 billion in federal funds to expand Medicaid in Wisconsin.
The $85 billion in automatic cuts, about half of which actually would come this year, represent less than 2 percent of the $3.6 trillion federal budget.
But plenty of economists, such as Ken Simonson, president of the National Association for Business Economics, said the across-the-board cuts would be disastrous for an anemic U.S. economy struggling to get well.
Simonson, chief economist for The Associated General Contractors of America, projects sequestration could halt $4 billion in federal construction work.
“Those things cause needless friction and anxiety in the economy,” he said, asserting the hit to spending will do more harm than good.
“That doesn’t seem to me to be a very sensible way to achieve savings,” Simonson said.
Walker seems to agree.
The Obama administration has laid out the potential dire impacts of sequestration in Wisconsin, including:
- $8.5 million in lost funding for primary and secondary education, putting about 120 teacher and aide jobs at risk.
- $10.1 million cuts from funds to pay for about 120 teachers, aides and staff serving children with disabilities.
- Furloughs for approximately 3,000 civilian Department of Defense employees, which would trim total gross pay by around $12.4 million.
- $216,000 sliced from Justice Assistance Grants that support law enforcement, prosecution and courts, crime prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, and drug treatment
Wisconsin is counting on that federal money. And Walker is counting on that money to help pay for his nearly $68 million, two-year spending plan.
The problem, according to conservatives advocating for sequestration, is Walker, Wisconsin and all of the states and their political leaders need to stop counting on Washington – and they need to start now.
“I think one of the things that has to happen for the Republican Party to face any kind of rebirth is they are going to have to face how deeply they’re on the public teat at every level and root that out,” Gillespie said.
Contact Kittle at email@example.com. Wisconsin Reporter’s Ryan Ekvall contributed to this report.
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