George Stephanopoulos Lobbies Scott Walker to Compromise, Sympathizes with Union Efforts

Good Morning America's George Stephanopoulos on Monday repeatedly lobbied Wisconsin's Scott Walker to compromise in the budget battle over public employee unions. Arguing that the unions were making reasonable efforts to compromise, he said of the protesters: "They're going to stay out as long as it takes. Are you read to negotiate?"

Repeating union talking points, Stephanopoulos pressed, "...Your critics say this is not about balancing the budget, it's about union busting. And the unions and the Democrats have said they're willing to take the concessions on wage and health benefits."

After Walker argued for the necessity of state workers to contribute to their retirement, Stephanopoulos rebutted, "But, they already said they're willing to give that up. But, Governor, they already said they're willing to give up on the pensions and the health care. They already said that."

In comparison, when Stephanopoulos interviewed Democratic State Senator Mark Miller on Friday, his questions weren't as challenging. At one point, he mildly pressed the Democrat who fled the state: " It is your job to vote, isn't it?"

Highlighting that the public sector employees would still pay less under than those in the private sector, Stephanopoulos mildly wondered, "What's wrong with that deal?"

A transcript of the February 21 segment, which aired at 7:12am EST, follows:

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, also in the Midwest, that storm has forced many of the protesters in Wisconsin inside. The high-staking budget standoff continues there today. The Republican governor refuses to negotiate. Democrat left the state to block a vote on his plan say they're not going to return to the state until he's ready to negotiate.

ABC GRAPHIC: Standoff in the Statehouse: Will Governor Compromise?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. You just heard the state senators there. Governor, thanks for joining us. They're going to stay out as long as it takes. Are you read to negotiate?

GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER: Well, the bottom line is we're trying to balance our budget and there's really no room to negotiate on that because we're broke, like nearly every other state across the country. We've got a massive deficit, $3.6 billion deficit. Ironically, many of those same Senate Democrats who are hiding out from taking on their responsibility to vote were the same folks who, two years ago, voted along with the previous governor to put two billion dollars plus into the budget we're now going into. That was one-time stimulus money. They helped create the hole. They did it through a short-term fix. We need a long term solution, which is more than just a negotiation right now- What's that, George?

STEPHANOPOULOS: But- But, governor- As you know, your critics say this is not about balancing the budget, it's about union busting. And the unions and the Democrats have said they're willing to take the concessions on wage and health benefits. They're willing to take about an eight percent pay cut. But, they simply don't want you to take away their collective bargaining rights.

WALKER: Well, Wisconsin has the strongest civil service system in the country. We had it long before collective bargaining rights. The rights that workers have in this state are based not on their contracts, they're based on that law, which, again, is the strongest in the country. And it protects things like merit hiring. It protects the grievance process, even termination with just cause. All those things remain, even when our bill passes. But, the difference is, there is a cost to collective bargaining. I mean, I'll give you an example: Just with our school districts, if, instead of being forced to buy from the WBA Trust, which is the teacher's union health insurance company, school districts could buy off the state employee health care plan, schools could save $68 million. I know it well. I used to be a county official for about eight and a half years. Every time I tried to do something sensible to balance our budget without laying people off, the unions said, "No, we don't want to make any changes. Go ahead and lay four or 500 people off." That's wrong and that's unacceptable. And what we're asking for, realistically, is something that nearly every other person in this state and every other person across this country is paying a whole lot more for when it comes to retirement and health care.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, they already said they're willing to give that up. But, Governor, they already said they're willing to give up on the pensions and the health care. They already said that. They've already made those concessions.

WALKER: But, that's a red herring. But, you can say anything in the midst of the debate. In December, after I was elected, but before I was sworn in, they tried to ram through a bill to push forward and lock in state employee health care, state employee health and contracts. The bottom line is they can say these things. But, there are 424 school districts. There are 72 counties. There are 1000-plus municipalities in this state. All of those can't guarantee the kind of savings that a handful of state union leaders are talking about. We cannot pass a budget that's going to have more than a billion dollars worth of cuts in aid to local government without giving them the tools to balance the budget so there's not layoffs. Otherwise, we end up like New York State or California or other states who are cutting billions of dollars from their local government without giving them the tools to handle them.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor, we only have a little bit of time left, governor. But, I'm wondering how this thing all ends? As far as I understand, if this- if you all don't reach some sort of agreement by the end of this week, you're going to lose your ability this time to refinance your debt, which is going to create an even bigger budget hole in the state of Wisconsin. Will you sit down and talk to your opponents before that happens?

WALKER: If the state senators come back, we'd gladly talk to them. But, the reality is, they're hiding out in a different state. They think somehow a handful of the minority can hold people hostage and the reality is, if you want to participate in democracy, you gotta come to where it's at. And that is in the arena. And the arena is in Madison, Wisconsin, not in Rockford or Chicago or anywhere else outside the state of Wisconsin. They've got to come to Wisconsin, do the job that they were elected to do, the job that they were paid to do. And if they want to do that, we'll sit down and talk to them. But, the bottom line is we can't negotiate over a budget because we're broke and we need the money.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay, governor. Thanks for your time this morning.

— Scott Whitlock is a news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the associate editor for the Media Research Center's NewsBusters.org site.