Photo by Mary Bottari. Used with permission.

In an interview with a local Milwaukee TV station, President Obama spoke out against the effort by Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin to strip collective bargaining rights from public employees as part of a budget repair bill. Below are some excerpts from the President’s interview, provided by the AFL-CIO:

“On the other hand, some of what I’ve heard coming out of Wisconsin, where you’re just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally seems like more of an assault on unions…

“And I think it’s very important for us to understand that public employees, they’re our neighbors, they’re our friends. These are folks who are teachers and they’re firefighters and they’re social workers and they’re police officers.

They make a lot of sacrifices and make a big contribution. And I think it’s important not to vilify them or to suggest that somehow all these budget problems are due to public employees.”

UPDATE: Ed Schultz played the entire quote last night, not just what the AFL put out, and it wasn’t nearly as good, as he awkwardly tried to rationalize the public employee wage freeze he put into his own budget in the middle of it. Seeing the whole thing I don’t think the statement was as bad as Ed says, but understand that Obama got boxed in by his own stupid policy on public employees.

Former Senator Russ Feingold, the chairman of the new group Progressives United, just spoke out on Rachel Maddow’s show tonight, and expressed pride for the people of Wisconsin “for reacting to this outrageous proposal… when you try to take away the rights of workers from around the state, they react. And this is a tremendous, inspiring reaction that shows that we are ready to take the fight against those who want to destroy the rights of working people in our state.” He called the attempt to tie this effort to the state budget basically phony, and that it’s more a drive to bust unions.

The high-profile statements Wednesday night may add some attention to what has already brought up to 30,000 protesters to Madison today. But it’s unclear exactly where the legislation stands. Earlier today, Governor Walker seemed to hedge by saying that his bill could change in some way, though not dramatically. And Republican lawmakers have already devised those changes.

Two GOP sources familiar with the talks said Republican Sens. Dale Schultz of Richland Center and Van Wanggaard of Racine were backing a plan to put at least some union bargaining rights back into the bill. One source said that the plan would make use of devices such as sunset clause to bring back certain bargaining rights in future years.

In an interview, Schultz acknowledged he was working on alternatives but said he couldn’t comment on any details. He said that he was headed to his home and expected to find both protesters and law enforcement protection there.

Schultz said that Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) had asked all GOP senators to put forward alternatives and that so far no final decisions had been made […]

Walker said earlier Wednesday that he was talking with legislative leaders from his party about extending state civil service protections – considered among the strongest in the nation – to local workers who would lose their right to bargain work rules under the proposal.

But later on, Fitzgerald said publicly that no major changes would be put into the bill, and the provision stripping collective bargaining wouldn’t come out.

Meanwhile, the news is coming out that, like a dentist who uses his tools to create a cavity and then tells you that you have a cavity, Walker created the budget problem that necessitated this repair bill by giving away hundreds of millions of dollars to wealthy donors. This created the “fiscal crisis” that led to this repair bill which includes the attack on public employees.

In its Jan. 31 memo to legislators on the condition of the state’s budget, the Fiscal Bureau determined that the state will end the year with a balance of $121.4 million.

To the extent that there is an imbalance — Walker claims there is a $137 million deficit — it is not because of a drop in revenues or increases in the cost of state employee contracts, benefits or pensions. It is because Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for special-interest groups in January. If the Legislature were simply to rescind Walker’s new spending schemes — or delay their implementation until they are offset by fresh revenues — the “crisis” would not exist.

The Fiscal Bureau memo — which readers can access at — makes it clear that Walker did not inherit a budget that required a repair bill.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has a phone call with Walker scheduled for tomorrow. He expressed concern over the notion of stripping teachers of bargaining rights at a conference in Denver today.

Tune in tomorrow.

David Dayen

David Dayen