MADISON, Wis. — No resolution appeared imminent Monday to the stalemate over union rights in Wisconsin, leaving Senate Republicans resigned to forge ahead with less-controversial business such as tax breaks for dairy farmers and commending the Green Bay Packers on winning the Super Bowl.
As the standoff entered its second week, none of the major players offered any signs of backing down in a high-stakes game of political chicken that has riveted the nation and led to ongoing public protests that drew a high of 68,000 people on Saturday. Thousands more braved cold winds and temperatures in the 20s to march again Monday, waving signs that said "Stop the attack on Wisconsin families" and "solidarity."
The 14 Senate Democrats who skipped town Thursday to indefinitely delay a vote on Republican Gov. Scott Walker's bill stripping most collective bargaining rights from nearly all public employees remained missing in action for a fifth day. Walker refused to back down and again called on the Democrats to return and vote on the bill.
"For those 14 Senate Democrats, you've had your time," he said. "It's time for them to come back and participate in democracy."
The Democrats have been far from hiding out. They've done numerous TV interviews and two of them even participated by phone in a brief meeting to schedule the Senate's session today.
"You have shut down the people's government, and that is not acceptable," Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said to them during the meeting.
Both the Senate and Assembly planned to be in session today to take up the bill, but at least one of the missing Democrats needed to show up for a vote to be taken in the Senate. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller said Democrats were waiting for Walker to compromise.
Under one deal, the unions said they would accept paying more for benefits as Walker wants but still retain their collective bargaining rights. Another compromise would remove collective bargaining rights just for two years.
Walker has repeatedly rejected both offers. As he spoke under heavy guard at a late afternoon news conference, thousands of protesters could be heard through the doors blowing whistles, banging on drums and chanting "Scott Walker has got to go!"
The emergency plan Walker wants the Legislature to pass would address this year's $137 million shortfall and start dealing with the $3.6 billion hole expected by mid 2013.