Republicans wanted something. Democrats wanted something. Everybody was in Madison under the same dome. Why didn’t anybody try to work something out?
Yesterday encapsulated what’s wrong with Wisconsin state government. Republican Speaker Robin Vos called an extraordinary session in an attempt to override a veto of a GOP bill to end extra Federal unemployment benefits a month early. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers countered by calling a special session for the purpose of adding $550 million to education spending. There was never any chance that either would succeed. They didn’t. Everybody went home.
And the point of all that was? Well, there wasn’t much point at all beyond the per diems that legislators could collect for their brief stay in Madison. Each side was trying to score some lame political point. Republicans wanted their message to be that Democrats don’t care about small businesses desperate for workers. Democrats wanted to say that Republicans don’t care about education, students and teachers. I doubt that most sane Wisconsinites were paying a whole lot of attention to any of it.
But if the political waters weren’t so poisoned this actually would have set up as a chance for compromise and progress. If the sides were talking with each other, instead of at and through each other, there could have been a productive negotiation. Democrats would go along with ending the UI benefits if Republicans would go along with the added education money.
Now, I don’t necessarily buy the argument that the extra $375 a week is keeping a lot of people out of the work force. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is down pretty much to where it was before the pandemic began. It’s 3.9% now; it was 3.5% then. But, on the other hand, the extra benefits were designed to get people through times when there just weren’t jobs available. They’re plentiful now.
Democratic opposition to ending the benefits about four weeks before they will expire automatically on September 6th was more about making rhetorical points about the need for things like paid medical leave and improved child care. I agree about that, but this was more posturing than substance.
Same goes for the Republicans. Vos has said that he’s going to use the big surplus accruing in state accounts to send more money to schools in the next budget. So, why not compromise a little and send it now? Well, the simple answer, I suppose, is that he doesn’t want to give Evers a victory in the year before his reelection.
So, given each party’s political reasons for wanting to posture instead of legislate, was there any real chance for compromise anyway? It’s hard to say. The trouble is that there’s no dialogue, no relationship at all between the Governor and the Speaker. This sort of impasse was foreordained by the last three years.
And without changing the personnel this same dysfunction will continue as far as the eye can see.
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