Republican Governor Scott Walker Monday gave absent Democratic lawmakers an ultimatum to return to Wisconsin within 24 hours for a vote on a proposal to reduce the power of public sector unions or the state would miss out on a debt restructuring.
Walker stepped up the pressure on Senate Democrats as he prepared to unveil on Tuesday a two-year state budget that he said cuts $1 billion from funding to local governments and schools.
The 14 Democrats have been absent from Wisconsin since Feb. 17 when they said they were left with no choice but to flee to avoid giving the Senate a quorum need for vote on the union bill. It was approved by the state assembly last week.
What began as one small state trying to rewrite the rules of labor relations has blown up into what could be the biggest confrontation with American labor unions since then President Ronald Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers in 1981.
For the second time since the controversy erupted, President Barack Obama weighed into the debate Monday criticizing the Wisconsin plan without mentioning it by name.
"I don't think it does anybody any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified or their rights are infringed upon," Obama told the nation's governors gathered in Washington.
Wisconsin's Walker immediately issued a response, saying: "I'm sure that President Obama simply misunderstands the issues in Wisconsin."
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