You have to hand it to the Republicans. They really know how to think outside the box. After enduring a sharp rebuke at the polls in the last election, party leaders came up with the perfect response to disaffected voters:
Let's withhold funding for needed services!
So we're left with the budget impasse in Wisconsin, the only state in the union whose legislators still haven't agreed on funding for schools, local government and a myriad of services for next year.
You'd think lawmakers would be embarrassed. But you'd be wrong. "Our party needs to draw distinct lines between what we stand for as Republicans and what the Democrats stand for, and then hold true to our principles," state Republican party chair Reince Priebus wrote GOP legislators.
With the budget impasse, "we have successfully drawn that line in the sand," Priebus said. "By being true to our ideals of less government and fewer taxes, we brought our party together, and we can once again be proud to call ourselves Republicans."
Now we know what the Republicans in our state really stand for: governmental lockdown.
But don't blame state GOP leaders. Look at the party leadership in Washington. Last week, President Bush vetoed an expansion of the popular State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, which his own Republican colleagues had helped craft.
Pundits called the veto a sop to Bush's "fiscally conservative" base, who are disgusted that this administration has spent nearly eight years converting a budget surplus into a huge deficit.
Like the Legislature's failure to pass a state budget, Bush's veto is not just a political disaster, but the kind of unthinking penny-pinching that ultimately costs more in both human and economic terms.
Here's what will happen: Not paying for routine checkups, immunization and other preventive care for children only means more people will use expensive emergency rooms as a substitute for the family doctor's office.
And the "savings" in Bush's veto of SCHIP is negligible in the big picture - the equivalent of three or four months of the disastrous Iraq war, where he is blithely spending $3 billion a week.
Bush's veto explanation rang hollow. He's against "socialized medicine," he said, ignoring the fact that the health insurance program is funded through a federal block grant that allows states broad latitude in fashioning a program. You know, the kind of program Republicans like because it cuts down on federal red tape.
In Wisconsin, BadgerCare started out as a linchpin of welfare reform. Former Gov. Tommy Thompson was proud of moving people off welfare and into work. To make that happen, he helped set up BadgerCare to catch those who fall through the cracks between Medicaid and employer-based health insurance.
It must have been strange for Thompson, who was constantly bragging about BadgerCare, to hear Bush loyalists in Congress denouncing Wisconsin after the president's veto.
Ours is one of a handful of states that use SCHIP money to cover adults as well as poor children, the program's opponents pointed out.
Could that be as bad as they say?
I reached Stephanie Marquis, a beleaguered-sounding spokeswoman at the state Department of Health and Family Services, to ask her about that scathing charge.
"If the adults have it, we've seen an increase in kids getting the preventive care they need," she explained. "It's good prevention to have the whole family covered. They don't show up in the emergency room every time they get sick, which costs more."
BadgerCare is such a popular bipartisan program, it has been expanded to "BadgerCare Plus," so more people who make too much money to get Medicaid but aren't covered by their employers can buy health insurance at a reasonable rate. ($80 is the highest monthly premium.)
Making health care affordable to more people might seem like a good idea to Democrats and sane Republicans, but to Bush and his far-right base it is the first step down the slippery slope toward dreaded "socialized medicine."
For those who want to wage an ideological war on "big government," attacking children's health care is good because it lets them blast away at "tax-and-spend liberalism" regardless of the program's merits.
If Republicans want to appeal to anyone besides the real wing nuts, though, it's likely to backfire.
Already, GOP senators and representatives up for reelection next fall are distancing themselves from Bush. The Democrats are only too happy to stand back and watch as the president continues vetoing one appropriation bill after another, as if the programs they fund are of no help to the American people.
Meanwhile, in Madison, Americans for Prosperity, a branch of Grover Norquist's radical right-wing group Americans for Tax Reform, will hold an anti-tax rally at the state Capitol building on Oct. 17. "We'd be just as happy without a budget," AFP-Wisconsin director Mark Block told The Capital Times.
To paraphrase Wisconsin Public Radio's John Munson, Republicans better hope that another bridge doesn't collapse.
RUTH CONNIFF IS THE POLITICAL EDITOR OF THE PROGRESSIVE MAGAZINE.