Embattled Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said politicians should boldly pursue a budget-cutting agenda even if Tea Party enthusiasm and popular support fades away.
Walker, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, urged his fellow governors to follow the path he’s blazed in Wisconsin and seek “structural reforms” like eliminating collective bargaining rights for public workers.
“If you are going to do it, don’t go halfway,” Walker said, also suggesting that House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) shares his views.
“I don’t plan on losing,” Walker said of the vote, “but I am not afraid of losing.”
The governor said he has no regrets about the policies he’s pursued in office, even if he was unprepared for the level of union opposition to them.
“A lot of time people in politics like to shy away from these issues, and understandably, because you get grief and attention and focus,” Walker said, but politicians have “no choice” but confront budget realities.
Walker said he would leave it to the pundits to decide whether his bold moves have contributed to a backlash against the Tea Party. He said even if the Tea Party recedes from the scene, fiscal reform will come back to the top of the agenda soon enough.
“It is not a popular discussion to have ongoing. People like to move on. Most of the media and the public in general likes to move on from one hot topic to the next,” Walker said. “Whether [fiscal reform] is at the top of people’s list or not, it should be and it will be in a few years if we fail to act.”
He added that the downgrade of the U.S. credit rating by Standard & Poor’s shows the U.S. is running out of time to avert a debt crisis.
Walker said that public sector unions have been very vocal in opposing his reform, but he is confident that the silent majority of the public is behind him.
“For every protester I get, there are five or six people who come up … slip you a note and tell you to persevere,” he said. “They are just as passionate, they are just not as angry about it.”
Walker said if he could have a do-over, he would have laid the groundwork better in the early part of 2011 for the March 2011 vote on public worker unions.
Walker framed the coming recall election, which he said is likely set for June, as a battle with labor leaders in Washington who are angered that Wisconsin gave public workers the option not to pay union dues. He said the identity of his future opponent is irrelevant.
“The person doesn’t matter. It will be the big-government union bosses here in Washington” calling the shots, he said.
He defended this week’s fundraising trip to Washington as necessary because of the amount of money unions are prepared to spend to unseat him.
Walker said he is hopeful of victory because he will have time to explain the benefits of his collective bargaining move.
He said a referendum in Ohio successfully overturned Gov. John Kasich’s (R) cuts for public workers because the governor did not have enough time for the benefits to become clear. In contrast, Wisconsin voters will have seen improved schools and lower property taxes due to the cuts by the time of the recall vote, he said.
Walker said the weak job growth in Wisconsin in recent months is due to uncertainty over the recall vote outweighing the pro-business moves from his administration.