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Citizen Dave: Wisconsin Assembly Democrats retreat to advance
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Credit:Wisconsin Assembly Democrats

At first blush it didn't make sense to me. The Wisconsin Assembly Democrats surprised everyone -- especially the majority Assembly Republicans -- by not offering any amendments to the Republican-written train wreck of a state budget.

Everyone knew that all of their amendments (and they had over 200 drafted) would go down, but shouldn't they have at least fought the good fight?

Well, these are days that call for unconventional approaches. Think about what would have happened if the Dems had done what they had tried before -- and every minority party has tried since there were minority parties. First, the message would have gotten muddled. There's so much wrong with this budget that dozens of amendments (200 would never have actually been offered for a vote) would lead to cacophony.

What do you pick to vote on? Blowing off hundreds of millions of dollar of our own federal tax dollars to expand Medicaid coverage? A $1,200 tax cut for those earning $300,000 versus a $12 cut for those earning $14,000? Needlessly recreating a structural deficit? Expanding vouchers to communities who don't want them while public schools still struggle with the last budget's $1.6 billion in cuts? Forcing women to take needless ultrasounds before a legal abortion? Bail bondsmen? High capacity wells? Making kringle the official state pastry?

And here's a subtle reason that Republican leaders were so upset that they didn't get more of a fight. Offering up these amendments would have actually given Republicans in marginal seats the chance to vote with the Democrats while not changing the final outcome. With a vast 60-39 vote margin, the GOP has the luxury of giving some of its members the option to vote against some items that might not go over well in their districts. So, for example, a Republican from a district where vouchers were unpopular could say that he voted against their expansion without mentioning that he eventually voted for the final budget that did just that.

Democratic insiders I spoke with acknowledged that this is a risky strategy. It could be portrayed as their party giving up and walking away from a fight. But look, standard procedure has not worked. By portraying the Republican budget as too broken to fix with simple amendments, the Dems may have captured the public's attention and gotten through one simple, clean message.

I agree this is risky, but the Democrats are in a position where there is just not much more to lose. I hope this is just the beginning of unconventional politics from my party.

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