In The News
Dems up-end D.C. fluffball hearing to embarrass Walker
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted April 14, 2011
Illuminating and skewering sound-bites are either lucky happenstance or unlikely surprises at congressional hearings, where the testimony is often controlled by the majority party, the patter is planned, dull and technical and the party in charge offers up softballs to its own knights and is prepared to cut off unpleasant scrutiny.
Little of that happened Thursday when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was invited by sympathetic GOP chairman Darrell Issa, at a time when Walker was something of the golden boy of GOP politics, to testify before the House Oversight Committee exploring “tough choices” in state budgets.
But a few weeks can tarnish any golden boy, especially when the opposition is prepared and the party in power isn’t. The GOP is suffering internal disarray over Walker. He is no longer the featured hero on many Republican websites, no longer touted as the face of the future, not when his actions in Wisconsin have clearly electrified progressives. Many of his supporters are in the fight of their political lives against recalls. Many of those who voted for him last year are now part of the resistance. They may not be ready to move over to the Democratic side, but they hardly think his image has been helpful or even traditional Republican. While some like Trump and Palin are scooting over to the Tea Party side for political advantage, pragmatic citizens are not about to swing so harshly in their basic human values.
So that became the background reality Thursday. And more than that, the GOP in the House were clearly ill-prepared and the Democrats in Congress were loaded for bear and braced with facts and pointed detailed questions. Walker was grilled from all corners of the minority party and the fluff offered by his GOP allies could not hide his embarrassment on C-SPAN and in sound and video clips picked up by the national media. Walker is usually smooth in such conflicts, but the Democrats were clearly better equipped and in D.C. he is not the king and does not have the clout to railroad opponents.
Virginia’s Gerry Connolly, hardly regarded as a leader of the progressive Democratic wing, got Walker to admit something he had ducked Wisconsin media on, that he had never campaigned explicitly on stripping bargaining rights fro public workers. It is one of several fascinating exposures of Walker that are enlivening YouTube and in this case made the Washington Post blog.
Another was Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s ruthless questioning of Walker on several points, including forcing him to admit that there were no financial benefits at all in his desire to force public worker unions to recertify every year and remove the ability to deduct union dues from paychecks. Kucinich was not only relentless. He even challenged chairman Issa’s attempts to sidetrack his evidence. It was actually a devastating admission by Walker who has long claimed that his anti-union “budget repair bill” was designed to save the state money, not bust unions.
Iowan Rep. Bruce Braley came in not from left field but from farm land and his background as a public worker to question Walker’s campaign commitment to good government and avoiding cronyism. He contrasted that to Walker’s record in office, catering to the families that filled his campaign coffers.
Even before Walker testified, his attitude toward workers was excoriated by the ranking Democrat on the House panel, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who tore apart the Republican’s anti-union record. “Working America - fire fighters, teachers and nurses - are not responsible for the reckless actions of Wall Street, which led to this crisis in the first place," he said in a “welcoming” speech.
Every time Walker thought he was off the hook, along came a bigger attack, culminating in a Wisconsin member of Congress who knows him well. In fact, Rep. Gwen Moore of Milwaukee still holds the record of the only candidate to beat him head to head in a race, but that was 30 years ago.
In a courtesy extended to House members, she was allowed five minutes and somehow actually fulfilled the rules and asked a question. But in a dazzling demonstration of how to rapidly roast an opponent on a spit, she took apart piece by piece how his state budget cripples the economy, schoolchildren, citizens and the image Wisconsin has long enjoyed as an attractive state.
The Democrats also deftly outmaneuvered the majority by making sure Walker testified alongside Democrat governor Pete Shumlin of Vermont, who detailed how working with state workers allowed him to solve a deeper deficit crisis than Wisconsin faced.
In fact, Shumlin landed the punch that dominated East Coast media when he showed up a pre-hearing rally by union workers discussing what Walker had done to Wisconsin. Pointedly noted Shumlin in discussing his approach: “In Vermont, we know that we have more success with maple sugar than we do with vinegar."