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“Founding Brothers” vs. Wisconsin State Budget Conferees

September 28, 2007

It struck me recently how ironic it was for me to be reading again Joseph Ellis’s “Founding Brothers” at night, while reading of the never-ending state budget negotiations by day.  No one will ever confuse the two groups.  Ellis writes with great passion about the deep thinkers and spirited gentlemen who brought insight, philosophical convictions, along with a sense of history to the table as they crafted our Constitution, and helped design the start of a nation.  Meanwhile in Wisconsin there seems to be only stalemate, political posturing, and short sightedness as the budget conferees do more bickering than budget making. 

While there was plenty of mean spiritedness and vindictiveness among some founders of the nation, which Ellis writes about, they performed when the times demanded it, and completed their mission.  It seems from my perspective that the only thing one can say about the broken state budget process is that the mission is not being completed.  Political posturing is the only result thus far.

As various players in the state budget process make press headlines about the process not being over for many more weeks, or the dreadful consequences if this or that policy is not included in the final document, the founders of the nation were playing to the future generations.  John Adams saved all his correspondence even prior to the war for independence to showcase the events that were leading to great things for a new country.  Can anyone argue that one single provision in the new state budget will have any truly profound effect on the people of Wisconsin?  After all the acrimony is over, will there be anything to be proud of?

Had the conferees played to history, and the impact for the greater good, they would have accepted and shaped a health care plan for the citizens of Wisconsin.  There is no shortage of evidence to support the need for such a plan that was started in the Democratic controlled State Senate.  Just as the Constitutional Convention sidestepped for political purposes the issue of slavery in order to accommodate Southern delegates, the Republicans demanded that health care be eliminated from the budget in order to move the process along.  History is not kind to such bad decisions.

The state budget process is broken for many reasons.  But I suggest that the lack of personal trust among members of the legislature is among the top reasons for the inability to complete the budget that was due on July 1, 2007.  There were no fewer dislikes or fissures among the “Founding Brothers”, but there always seems to be that eye cast to the pages of history.  They sensed that they were doing something big and wonderful.  With the budget conferees there seems to be only political calculations designed to trip up the other party at the expense of government doing grand things for society.

As Ellis writes, the paintings from that era all look as if they knew we would be watching their actions and reading their words.  So they acted with care and made huge brilliant decisions.  In contrast a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Judy Robson said in a news story that “ordinary constituents have allowed lawmakers to dawdle”, and therefore not forced the budget process to move ahead.  It is not that the public does not know or understand that the budget process is late and broken, it is that they are so tired of this type of government inaction that they just tune out.  The budget conferees have no sense of history, and the public has lost faith.

As I said, no one will confuse the nation builders, and Wisconsin lawmakers.

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