Potential GOP presidential candidates announced on Thursday that they supported the Republican governor in Wisconsin in his standoff with unionized public employees, while the White House repeated its position that needed financial belt-tightening should not be an excuse to eliminate fundamental union rights.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has called on public employees to spend more for health insurance and pension benefits and has argued that collective bargaining rights should be limited. Tens of thousands of demonstrators have protested the plans and all 14 Democratic senators have fled the state so that their chamber cannot act on the proposals.
In a posting on his website, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney announced that his Free and Strong America PAC will send a maximum $5,000 contribution to the Republican Party of Wisconsin.
“Liberal big government interests are fighting efforts to rein in out-of-control public employee pay and benefits in Wisconsin. It is critical that we stand with the Wisconsin GOP as it stands up for the rights of the taxpayer,” Romney said.
Romney, considered one of the leading aspirants for the GOP nod in 2012, was joined by another possible contender, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who in a website posting on Thursday praised Walker, while attacking President Obama.
“Gov. Scott Walker is making tough choices needed to avoid financial ruin,” Pawlenty said. “The nation's governors don't need a lecture from a president who has never balanced a budget. All levels of government need to bring public employee compensation in line with the private sector.”
None of the potential GOP presidential candidates has formally announced a campaign for 2012.
Obama initially criticized Walker’s plans, saying they seem “like more of an assault on unions.” Facing tough bargaining ahead on his own budget, Obama also said he understood the need for some cuts.
At his afternoon briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said he was unaware of any plans for Obama to join picketers in Wisconsin, then reiterated the president’s position.There is a need “for public sector employees to tighten their belts,” Carney said, but the president continues to be concerned that the need for cuts not be used “as an excuse to go after fundamental bargaining rights.”
Carney called on the parties to bargain in Wisconsin. Obama “believes very strongly people need to come to the table and share the sacrifice,” he said.
The battle in Wisconsin has been a political issue for the last two weeks. There were early claims by Organizing for America, Obama’s former group that is now part of the Democratic National Committee, that it was helping the demonstrators. But after the GOP complained, the White House said that the group had played a minimal role in what was a grass-roots movement in the Midwest.