Gov. Scott Walker on Monday urged fellow Republicans in Congress to “call the bluff” of President Barack Obama and allow $85 billion in automatic federal spending cuts to take effect next month.
The remarks — made in a nationally televised interview on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” — were just the latest from the governor in recent days downplaying the impact of the so-called sequester that would force the federal government to make billions in across-the-board cuts between March and September, half of them in defense spending, unless the Democratic president and Congress can strike a deal on deficit reduction.
A main sticking point is whether to allow any tax increases to help balance the budget.
Those comments have made Walker one of the go-to Republican governors on the subject during his attendance at the National Governors’ Association meeting in Washington, D.C. Political observers say Walker’s statements are aimed at courting conservative Republicans for a possible presidential bid.
UW-Madison political science Professor Ken Mayer said such talk also could backfire when Walker runs for re-election in less than two years.
Mayer said cheering for sequester may “maintain his bona fides with conservatives,” but if the cuts do kick in “and the horror stories come to pass, then he could be hurt by aligning himself so closely with the most conservative Republicans, at least with general election voters here (in Wisconsin) in 2014.
One top state Democrat called Walker’s message “irresponsible.”
“I’m not sure why he (Walker) would be urging national Republicans not to work with the president and not to come up with a long-term solution,” said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha.
The White House said this week that sequester could cause 3,000 civilian defense employees to be furloughed in Wisconsin; state schools would lose funding for 240 teachers, aides and staff; 550 fewer college students would qualify for financial aid; among other effects.
During an interview Monday with Fox News, Walker called such projections “scare tactics.”
He said the sequester might finally force strong action on the federal deficit, which is “what the sequester was about in the first place.”
UW-Madison political science professor Charles Franklin said Walker’s statements are “in line with his views about policy and government and I think it’s also in line with his national (political) interests and image.”
Over the weekend, Walker also told Bloomberg TV that Congress and the president must change popular programs including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
This month, the Republican rejected federal Medicaid dollars to add 175,000 people to the state-run health care system.
Instead Walker proposed a “hybrid” that he said would cover 224,580 people, including about 87,000 who would be shifted to not-yet-formed private health insurance exchanges. Democrats and other critics said that plan won’t work.
“I think, in the long term, there’s got to be some sort of entitlement reform,” the governor told Al Hunt, host of “Political Capital.” “It’s what we’re talking about in our states. It’s how we’re balancing not just our current but future budgets.”
UW-La Crosse political science professor emeritus Joe Heim said Walker’s rejection of Medicaid funding puts him on the right side of the Republican Party, and it “enhances his national reputation as a fiscal conservative.”
But U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said cutting entitlements is not the answer.
He called for a “responsible plan” that protects those programs.
“I do not believe we should balance our budget on the backs of our seniors and neediest citizens while we preserve tax loopholes for oil companies and millionaires,” Pocan said.