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February 18th, 2011
04:02 PM ET

Letters to the President: #760 'What's up in Wisconsin?'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: The president’s team is apparently weighing in on the clash in Wisconsin over budget cuts. Meanwhile, I’m cautioning in today’s letter that even presidents have to pick their fights.

Dear Mr. President,

As you know, I am usually quite encouraging, but there are times when I feel the need to sound a note of caution. This is one of those.

I have been watching the kerfuffle in Wisconsin over the state’s budget and planned cuts to various employees and their pension plans. And I’m not entirely sure if your team ought to be weighing in on this the way they apparently are, in terms of encouraging the organization of opposition.

Hear me out. You have every right, of course, to do whatever you want. You are, after all, the president. I can understand the urge to protect the jobs of government workers, especially those who belong to unions which supported your candidacy. I can even respect the suspicion of many Democrats that this is a sneaky move by the Republicans to attack the unions in the name of budget woes.

My main concern is just this: There are a lot of states with serious budget problems (heck, almost all of them) and whatever good intentions you may have in apparently stepping up in Wisconsin, what are you going to do when the next one, and the next one, and the next one rolls around?

Most states have already made hard cuts in recent years. And they are going to have to make more - even if they raise taxes and even if they trim the least immediately impactful programs first. Against that reality, a lot of governors and state legislators - and not just the Republican ones - are going to chafe at the idea of Washington wading in with a lot of pronouncements about what they should or should not do.

After all, it’s not like D.C. has proven particularly adept at handling the federal budget’s problems. And, btw, it’s worth remembering that the people making these decisions up in Wisconsin were elected just like you were. The people of that state chose them to deal with their state’s budget issues, not to simply step aside and let outsiders - including the D.C. crowd - take the reins.

You’ve said that fixing the economy is going to require all of us to make sacrifices. It doesn’t look good for any president to say that and then appear to be putting his thumb on the scales to help his political friends avoid that very fate.

Maybe I’m misreading all of this. Maybe what you are attempting there is necessary, smart, and right. What I’m saying is that it is not clear that such is the case. And I fear if you continue down this path, you may find a lot of voters saying if you wanted to be a governor, you should have run for that office instead of the one you hold.

Not wrecking on you. Just a few observations.

Hope all is well. Call if you can.

Regards,
Tom

Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Katie Conrad

    I am a teacher who has been at the capitol for the past three and a half days and I am extremely upset by the misrepresentation of the protests. First and foremost this is NOT about pension and health benefits or any sort of money, which would all make sense to make a big deal about when considering the budget. All of these major protests are about one thing, and that is collective bargaining. There is no sensible reason why taking away collective bargaining would balance our budget. This bill is union busting and there is no other way to describe it.

    And also please stop letting the Anderson Cooper show report that teachers are being paid to be at the protests. I am a Madison teacher and have NOT been paid for the past three days along with the majority of teachers from other districts that have been there. If someone complains that teachers are being paid to protest at least correct them and let them know that most teachers are not being paid to be there. This issue is too important to have the facts misconstrued.

    February 19, 2011 at 12:27 am |
  2. Daniel G Cavanaugh, M.D.

    As a citizen if the state of Wisconsin and one who has tried to "follow the rules", it is frightening to see what is going on in our great state. Is this a throw back to 1861 when a group of folks decided not to follow the rules and suddenly walked out - throwing our country into a five year upheaval of brother against brother? One wuld have thought that a 150 year old lesson would have had some affect by now.

    February 18, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  3. sally Koziar

    I am a retired teacher. I was a union member, although I felt it was a shame that incompetent teachers were protected by the union.
    I am opposed to the demonstrations I am seeing in Wisconsin. Teachers who have called in sick and have not taught students when paid to teach students is unacceptable.
    Our economy is in crisis and teachers need to realize it is the citizens of this country who are paying their salaries and benefits. We all need to make sacrifices and I believe that if they are being asked to pay Something for their benefits, this is only fair and just. Teachers are now providing classroom instruction less than 8 hours a day. the argument that they have prep and grading is true but that is part of being a professional, not an assembly line worker. You do what it takes to get the job done. When we had one room school houses and one teacher teaching multiple grades, the education was so much better. More money, less students, more benefits, less hours....the system is broken and the unions need to get out of education.

    February 18, 2011 at 4:51 pm |