Guy Benson
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In an end-run around the fleebaggers -- whose claims that they were being totally stonewalled were exposed as pure rubbish earlier today -- Wisconsin Senate Republicans executed a legal maneuver that left much of their controversial budget bill intact,* but technically allowed them to pass it without a super majority -- or any Democrats, for that matter.  They stripped the budget bill of its appropriations language, which rendered it no longer explicitly revenue-related, and therefore open to a simple majority vote.  No Democrats were present for the vote -- and for that, they have no one to blame but their own truant selves.  *(See Update V below).

Just like the Assembly's late-night, surprise vote on Gov. Walker's budget late last month, this one was over in a flash:

In 18-1 vote, Wis. Senate approves bill to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights.

Presto, the most divisive elements of Walker's proposal now await his signature into law.  Wow.  That, my friends, is what we call political hardball.  I wasnt sure Republicans had it in them.  I stand corrected.  More to come...


UPDATE - The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes clarifies that what this isolated collective bargaining bill does, and does not, do:

WI budget repair bill does NOT separate collective bargaining and fiscal issues. Just separates $30 million from this fiscal year.

UPDATE II - Allahpundit asks a delicious question of Democrats who are gnashing their teeth over this power play:

Don’t you hate it when irregular procedures are used to destroy a de facto filibuster of an unpopular bill?

Heh.  Indeed.


UPDATE III - Governor Walker applauds the action:

"The Senate Democrats have had three weeks to debate this bill and were offered repeated opportunities to come home, which they refused. In order to move the state forward, I applaud the Legislature's action today to stand up to the status quo and take a step in the right direction to balance the budget and reform government. The action today will help ensure Wisconsin has a business climate that allows the private sector to create 250,000 new jobs."

Democrats are calling the move "illegal" and a "naked abuse of power."  I'm not sure if this is a naked abuse, but Democrats were certainly caught with their pants down on this one.


UPDATE IV - Irony alert: "What Republicans did was an affront to democracy," tweets a furious Democratic State Senator...who literally ran away from the Democratic process to avoid a vote. 


UPDATE V
- Important: John McCormack has the scoop on what the freshly-passed bill accomplishes.  Short answer: Pretty much everything Gov. Walker wanted in the first place.

The legislation being voted on tonight has few changes from the bill as initially proposed. It would save just $30 million less than the original budget bill by stripping out a refinancing provision. But it would still save the state $300 million over the next two years by requiring state employees to contribute about 5% of income toward their pensions and by requiring state workers to pay for about 12% of their health insurance premiums. It would also save $1.44 billion by requiring public employees in school districts and municipalities to pay 5% of their salaries toward their pensions and by removing collective bargaining for benefits, thus giving school districts and municipalities the option of requiring their employees to pay about 12% for their health insurance premiums.

"We are not splitting the bill. It's an an amended bill," says one source, who explains that the state's non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has said that such a vote could take place without a three-fifths quorum required for some fiscal bills. "It still has a fiscal impact, but doesn't appropriate money," which is why the senate can vote on the bill with a simple majority present.  "All the collective bargaining and everything else is the same as the original bill."


UPDATE VI - Your hysterical, wildly inaccurate headline of the day, courtesy of Reuters: "Wisconsin Senate Passes Public Sector Union Ban."  Journalism.


UPDATE VII -  The fleebaggers are headin' home:

Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona) said they would be back by Thursday. They had been able to block a vote on the bill for three weeks because 20 senators had to be present to vote for it. Republicans control the house 19-14…

...Or maybe notDem Sen. Leader Miller puts out one sentence statement: "We will not be back tomorrow."  Well, Illinois is gorgeous this time of year.  Meanwhile, the Left is freaking out:

"This is a violation of law! It's not a rule!" Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) bellowed.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) ignored Barca and ordered the role to be taken. Republicans voted for the measure as Barca continued to plead with them to stop the vote.

Republicans have not yet given an explanation of why they believe the committee could legally meet.  Minutes later, the Senate took up the bill and passed it without debate.  "Shame on you!" protesters cried from the galleries.

Protesters were chanting, "Shame!" "This is not democracy!" and "You lied to Wisconsin!"

UPDATE VIII - Some union folks are apparently calling for a general strike (ie, all unions) tomorrow....which is illegal, and could allow Gov. Walker to start firing no-show state workers.  Oh my.  After what just happened, do you really want to call that bluff, guys?

UPDATE IX - Multiple first-hand accounts on Twitter indicate that union members and supporters are flooding into the Capitol, and that police are having trouble controlling the situation.  This could turn very ugly:

DOA Spokesman: "Windows and doors have been broken."

Video from inside the rotunda, via @news3jessica:



UPDATE X - According to eyewitnesses, there is no security to speak of at the Wisconsin Capitol at this hour, and that protesters are locking the doors from the inside using metal handcuffs.  If true, this is outright lawlessness and a major, dangerous fire hazard.

Remember when peaceful Tea Party protests were treated as violent, angry, threatening mobs by the media?  What, pray tell, is this?


Chaos:

Following the vote on the bill, GOP senators were hustled out of the Capitol via an underground tunnel that takes them to a government building across the street.  For the past few days, senators have made this walk and been loaded onto a bus that takes them to their cars parked in a remote area.  Yet after the vote, protesters had apparently caught wind of this process and surrounded the bus full of senators.  One witness told me he had seen protesters surrounding the bus and trying to rock it back and forth.


UPDATE XI:  The Wisconsin Senate chief clerk says the GOP's timing was legit, and legislative attorneys cleared the process.  It seems Rep. Barca's shrieking was mostly bluster.  Still, prepare for legal challenges.
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Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Senior Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography