Fireworks expected as Gov. Walker heads to Hill to talk unions

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) could be in for a rowdy welcome from unions and liberal groups when he comes to Capitol Hill on Thursday to testify about his work on reducing the state’s budget deficit.

A coalition of liberal groups including People for the American Way, Common Cause and Public Campaign is scheduled to give a press conference outside the hearing room before Walker testifies, and union members are traveling in from Wisconsin to attend.

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Walker’s appearance before Congress will be his first since his standoff with public-sector unions over collective bargaining rights began earlier this year. 

“We are going to make our messaging felt,” Marge Baker, executive vice president for policy and programs at People for the American Way, told The Hill. “We want people at the hearings, inside the room and outside. We want the committee to hear from the American people.”

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) is also holding a press conference with union members after the hearing to respond to Walker’s testimony.

Walker is a Republican-invited witness at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the panel’s chairman, will praise Walker for his “courageous efforts” at cutting spending in his state’s budget, according to a statement.

“To understand impediments to reform and what it takes to climb out of a deep fiscal hole, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will testify about how he successfully championed sweeping reforms that will keep his state solvent. Moody’s, a credit rating agency, recently announced that the reforms will have a positive impact on Wisconsin’s credit rating, a further testament to the merits of Gov. Walker’s courageous efforts,” Issa is expected to say in his opening statement.

Walker is expected to discuss his battle with labor over legislation to strip collective bargaining rights for most public workers. Others slated to attend include Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, and Andrew Biggs, once the principal deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration and now a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

To continue the Wisconsin theme, committee Democrats considered inviting Wisconsin Senate Democratic Leader Mark Miller as their lone witness. Miller was among the 14 Wisconsin state senators who fled the state in a failed bid to block Walker’s union bill.

But committee Democrats instead chose Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin to provide a different take on this year’s budget battles.

“As an executive of a state in the process of navigating its own projected budget shortfall, Gov. Shumlin will provide valuable insight as his state and the entire country continue to recover from the recent economic recession,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the committee’s ranking member, said in a statement. “Gov. Shumlin will also bring a perspective that is markedly different than that of the majority’s witness, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, allowing the committee to obtain a wider and more balanced range of views on these issues.” 

Activists see the influence of conservative financiers Charles and David Koch in the hearing, noting that campaign contributions from the brothers and the political action committee of their company, Koch Industries, have gone to several of the committee’s GOP members.

“This fictional debt ‘crisis’ is a distraction created by Walker and those like David Koch, who is funding this crusade,” Harold Schaitberger, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said in a statement. “They want to transfer wealth from middle-class workers to the super-rich and silence the voices of ordinary workers and their unions in the process.”

Walker was able to pass legislation to restrict collective bargaining but has seen the bill tied up in a court challenge. Further, Walker’s polling has declined since his battle with labor.

The political impact of the battle between Walker and unions has been felt widely. 

A Wisconsin Supreme Court race garnered national attention last week because it was the first election in the state since the standoff over union rights. David Prosser, the conservative incumbent justice, is ahead in the vote tally, but questions remain after the ballot count swung in his favor following a state official’s counting error.

Wisconsin state senators who supported Walker’s bill, meanwhile, are facing recall efforts. At least one recall petition has been filed against a Republican state senator so far, and more are expected.

Jackie McElroy is one of the union members who will be on Capitol Hill on Thursday to speak out against Walker. A member of the Service Employees International Union, McElroy is a Milwaukee nursing-home worker who will be in uniform at the hearing.

“I think it’s important to bring our message to D.C.,” McElroy said. “What he is doing is hurting our state. He’s not helping our state.”

As a private-sector worker, McElroy would not see her bargaining rights stripped under Walker’s legislation, but she said she works with people who would lose them. McElroy is worried that her collective bargaining rights could be next on the chopping block.

“My particular position at this moment is not being affected, but my community is being affected,” McElroy said. “Yes, that is very much a worry.”