(MADISON, Wis.) -- A dramatic political showdown is underway in Wisconsin over painful budget cuts that threaten thousands of state employees. Even President Obama has injected himself into the growing fracus.
"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," Obama told Milwaukee's WTMJ-TV in a White House interview Wednesday.
"The idea is to sit down and negotiate," said state Sen. Mark Miller, who fled Wisconsin on Thursday in an effort to delay a vote that would curb the state's unions and force them to contribute more for benefits. "We've heard over a thousand people testify about the impact this is going to have on their lives. It's heartbreaking, people break down in tears. This is a disaster and we're being asked to swallow it in just four days."
Thursday night, more public workers, including firefighters, poured into the capital, in a third day of protests that have brought tens of thousands to Madison. Some families camped out overnight in a last-ditch effort to protest budget cuts they fear would cripple their union rights.
On Thursday, Republicans were poised to pass an austerity budget requiring state workers to pay more for pensions and health care.
But what really has protesters steamed is a dramatic move by the Republican governor to eliminate union bargaining on everything from wages to work rules.
So the 14 Senate Democrats fled the state on Thursday to prevent a vote, and prevent Wisconsin police from rounding them up.
Gov. Scott Walker unveiled the budget bill only last Saturday. Faced with a $3.6 billion deficit, he denies he is trying to bust the unions.
"The bottom line is we're broke. We can't negotiate for something we don't have the ability to give on," said Walker.
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