Who's in charge of our political system—voters or unions?
By JOHN FUND
This week President Obama was roundly criticized, even by many of his allies, for submitting a federal budget that actually increases our already crushing deficit. But that didn't stop him Thursday from jumping into Wisconsin's titanic budget battle. He accused the new Republican governor, Scott Walker, of launching an "assault" on unions with his emergency legislation aimed at cutting the state budget.
The real assault this week was led by Organizing for America, the successor to President's Obama's 2008 campaign organization. It helped fill buses of protesters who flooded the state capital of Madison and ran 15 phone banks urging people to call state legislators.
Mr. Walker's proposals are hardly revolutionary. Facing a $137 million budget deficit, he has decided to try to avoid laying off 5,500 state workers by proposing that they contribute 5.8% of their income towards their pensions and 12.6% towards health insurance. That's roughly the national average for public pension payments, and it is less than half the national average of what government workers contribute to health care. Mr. Walker also wants to limit the power of public-employee unions to negotiate contracts and work rules—something that 24 states already limit or ban.
Democrats have apparently given up on the NASCAR vote. Several of the party's House members are backing an amendment to the fiscal 2011 budget that would block any Pentagon money from going towards the sponsorship of stock-car racing as part of the military's marketing efforts.
It wasn't so long ago that Democrats actively courted NASCAR fans. They became all the rage after Democrat Mark Warner won the Virginia governorship in 2001 partly on the basis of his assiduous attendance at NASCAR races. In the 2004 presidential election, Democrats were hunting down "NASCAR dads" (mostly Southern white males) for votes the way Republican were angling to secure the support of "soccer moms" in the 2000 election. But John Kerry, the party's 2004 presidential nominee, fell flat both in the South and with NASCAR fans, and Democratic interest in the demographic waned.
It apparently has hit rock bottom now. Rep. Betty McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat, wants to yank $7 million a year in Pentagon funding for NASCAR sponsorships, despite a strong overlap between enthusiasm for the sport and areas where large numbers of young people volunteer for the military. Surveys have found that one out of every three members of the military is a NASCAR fan.
But none of that sways opponents of NASCAR marketing. "The military shouldn't be in the business of sponsoring race cars, they should be in the business of fighting wars," Bill Harper, the chief of staff to Rep. McCollum, told National Journal. Yet Mr. Harper declined to call for an end to such Pentagon marketing efforts as generic TV and radio advertisements designed to spur enlistment. Indeed, the Army's annual $5 million sponsorship of drag racing would not be touched by the anti-NASCAR amendment.
It should be a given that government spending must be cut, including military spending. But the Democratic effort to go after NASCAR funding strikes many as a gratuitous cultural statement by sour-grapes liberals who used to be only too happy to curry favor with fans of the sport.
With the news that former Washington State Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser has decided to work as a lobbyist for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), I thought the below chart might serve as a good reminder of how the SEIU was the largest contributor to the 2010 effort to establish a state income tax in Washington. The SEIU and its affiliates spent nearly $2.6 million advocating the state income tax, comprising 40 percent of all funding for “Yes on 1098.”
Thankfully, with the financial support of thousands of Washingtonians who knew the income tax would be a disaster for the state, voters rejected Initiative 1098 by 28 points. It’s hard to imagine a GOP chair working to advance the views of a union that wants more government spending, more government employees and greater control over all of the levers of power in Olympia.