Meyer: Majority parties need to learn when to stop

Tom Meyer

When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the Republican leadership in the Wisconsin legislature started pushing their budget repair bill in January, they must have known it would cause a controversy. But it’s unlikely that they had any idea just what they were getting into.

Now, five months later, the scope of the bill’s backlash is coming into focus. The immediate response to the Republican plan-which included reducing benefits, limiting pensions and taking away collective bargaining rights from many public employees-featured tens of thousands of protesters descending on Madison for days on end. Students flooded the Capital building. Democrats in the state Senate even fled to Illinois to prevent a vote on the bill.

And this anger wasn’t just a flash in the pan. Earlier this week, Democrats won a special election for a seat in the Wisconsin House in a reliably Republican district. Last month, a liberal who barely even won her primary nearly unseated a conservative Supreme Court justice. This summer, recall elections are expected against six Wisconsin Senate Republicans, giving Democrats to take control of the chamber. Wisconsin has never faced so many recall elections in its history.

Yet this entire saga represents a lesson that Wisconsin Republicans should’ve known. It’s one President Obama and Congressional Democrats learned in November: the majority party must not overstep its bounds.

In fact, the Wisconsin controversy and the firestorm around the Democrats’ health care bill share many parallels. Both were laws pushed through a united government despite public outcry. Both will likely end up being decided by the courts. Both, according to the parties who passed them, are unpopular now but will help the public down the road.

And now, just as in the fall, Wisconsin Republicans are facing electoral doom because they pushed too radical an agenda too quickly. Walker already faces a campaign that is pushing to recall him from office as soon as he is eligible.

Sadly, this is becoming evident on the national stage too. House Republicans passed a budget last month that-critics charge-would effectively end Medicare and inflict unnecessary harm on the poor.

After blindly charging ahead with this proposal-authored by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, no less-Republicans faced a round of angry town hall meetings reminiscent of those that Democrats endured in 2009.

Now, rather than pushing for the bill to move forward, Republicans are dreading a Senate vote that Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid is threatening to call for.

That’s right: A Democrat is punishing Republicans by making them vote on their own proposal.

That’s what can happen when the party in power doesn’t know its limits. America tends to be, on most issues, a fairly centrist nation. We say we want the debt reduced but we won’t cut social services in order to do it. We want an orderly, middle-of-the-road approach to bringing our troops home. We want some aspects of health care regulated, but we apparently don’t want universal coverage.

As both Democrats and Republicans have learned in recent months, doing too much too fast can be a recipe for disaster. However, based on the latest reports, Republicans in Wisconsin haven’t quite gotten the memo yet, making it more and more likely that the summer of 2011 will be a rough one for them.

If that’s the case, they’ll be the latest example of a party that just didn’t know when to stop.

Tom Meyer is a Medill freshman and DAILY staffer. He can be reached at [email protected]