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Guests: Senators McCaskill & Coburn; Gov. Walker

By Fox News Sunday, Fox News Sunday - February 20, 2011

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February 20, 2011

Special Guests | Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Claire McCaskill, Sen. Tom Coburn

The following is a rush transcript of the February 20, 2010, edition of "Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: I'm Chris Wallace and this is "Fox News Sunday."

(MUSIC)

WALLACE: Wisconsin state capital -- the new frontline in the battle over how to cut government spending. With other states watching, we'll talk with Republican Governor Scott Walker about his plan to change the rules for public employee unions.

And then the president's budget lands on Capitol Hill. Now, the debate over how much to cut. We'll hear from two senators who could hold the key to compromise: Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn and Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill.

Plus, protests spread across the Middle East. We will bring you the latest and ask our Sunday panel if U.S. officials we need to rethink what's happening in the region.

And our power player of the week: a general's wife finds her own way to serve our military.

All right now on "Fox News Sunday".

And hello again from Fox News in Washington.

The political firestorm in Wisconsin over proposed changes to bargaining rights and benefits for government workers intensified this weekend. Here is the latest: an estimated 70,000 demonstrators gathered at the state capitol Saturday -- most of them opposed to the governor's budget plan but also some supporters. Public employees offered to pay more for pensions and health benefits if they can keep their collective bargaining rights. And Senate Democrats remain in hiding out of state so no vote can be taken.

Joining us now: the man pushing the changes, Governor Scott Walker, who comes to us from Madison, Wisconsin.

And, Governor, welcome to "Fox News Sunday."

GOV. SCOTT WALKER, R-WI.: Good to be with you, Chris.

WALLACE: Those 14 Democrats who fled Wisconsin to avoid -- to block a vote in the state senate say they'll come back if you'll sit down with them and work out a compromise and the deal would be that the unions agree on the money issues but they keep their collective bargaining rights.

Governor, are you willing to do that?

WALKER: Well, no. First off, those senate Democrats should realize, if you want to participate in a democracy, you got to be in the arena. And the arena is right here in Madison, Wisconsin. It's not hiding out in Rockford, Illinois, or Chicago, or anywhere else out there. Democracy means you show up and participate.

And they failed to do that. They're walking out on their job. They're doing what's contrast to the many, many thousands, almost 300,000 state and local workers across Wisconsin, who despite those protesters, most of them showed up and did their job like they're paid to do. For us, this is about balancing the budget. We've got a $3.6 billion budget deficit. We are broke. Just like nearly every other state across the country, we're broke.

It's about time somebody stood up and told the truth. And the only way for us to balance the budget at the state level or at the local level is to make sure that we give those local governments the tools they need to balance the budget, and that's what we're proposing.

WALLACE: Yes, but I don't understand. If it's a money issue and balancing the budget and they are willing to concede on the money issues, why isn't that enough? Why do you also have to take back some of their collective bargaining rights?

WALKER: Well, they aren't because, in the end, they can say that, but that's really a red herring. The same groups back in December, after election, before I was sworn in, tried to ram through literally in a lame duck session employee contracts that would have locked things in before I got there. So, they're not really interested. But more critically, I was a county executive, an elected official in Milwaukee County, a county that's never elected Republicans before -- I was there for three different elections because we tried to tackle these very same issues.

And what stood in the way time and time again was collective bargaining. We've got over 1,000 municipalities, 424 school districts, about 72 counties in the state, all of which need to have the power to be able to offset what's going to happen in Wisconsin next week, just like New York, in California, wherever else, has been doing, and that's cutting billions of dollars from local governments.

The difference is, unlike those other states, I want to give those local governments the tools they need to balance the budget now and in the future. They can't do that with the current collective bargaining laws in the state.

WALLACE: Governor, I understand it's the Senate Democrats who took off. But how long are you willing to let the standoff go on? And what would you think of the legislature voting that the Senate Democrats are in contempt of the legislature, and therefore, what they're doing is a crime?

WALKER: Well, on the latter part, my hope is that cooler minds will prevail and by sometime earlier this coming week, they'll show up for their job. I've said all along, the best way to motivate senators to come back is for constituents in their districts, regardless of how they feel about the budget repair bill, to tell the senators to show up to their job they're paid to do.

WALLACE: But what if they don't come back?

WALKER: Well, we're going to look at every option out there. But I'm an optimist. I'm realistic about their challenges but optimistic about the solutions. And I believe we've got a path that allows to have everybody come back and vote. There's going to be plenty of time to have the debate. They can make their case, they can make their argument. But democracy is now hiding out and out of state. It's about showing up here in the capital and making the case here.

And for us, we're willing to take this as long as it takes, because, in the end, we're doing the right thing. We're doing the right thing for Wisconsin. And we're leading the way, as we did in the past in Wisconsin, on reform. We are leading the way again when it comes to budgetary reform.

And for us, we have to do this. Again, we've had for decades -- we had leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike, who pushed off the problems. Well, there's no place to push them off to. Two years ago, my predecessor and many of the same majority Democrats that time who are now hiding out push through a budget that took $2 billion of one time federal stimulus money and used it to balance their budget for (INAUDIBLE) school-like deficits. They didn't make the tough decisions then. We're going to make them now because we have to, to get the state's economy again and to get our budget balanced.

WALLACE: And President Obama stepped into this controversy this week. Let's look at what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Some of what I've heard coming out of Wisconsin where you're just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally seems like more of an assault on unions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Governor, you've said that the president should focus on balancing his own budget. But beyond that, do you think that his stepping into a state collective bargaining issue is inappropriate? And what do you think of his political arm, Organizing for America, taking a role in mobilizing some of the opposition?

WALKER: Well, I think you're right. The president ultimately should stay focused on fixing the federal budget because they've got a huge deficit, and believe me -- they got their hands full. They're far from getting it accomplished in Washington.

But in a larger context, you know, the thousands of protesters who are over this past week have every right to be heard, at least those from Wisconsin. An increasingly, as you just alluded to, there are more and more coming in from other states across the country. For those who are from Wisconsin, they have every right to be heard.

But I pointed out, there are over 300,000 state and local workers who weren't here, were doing their job, doing what they're paid to do. We appreciate that. My hat's off to them.

But most importantly, there are 5.5 million people in the state, taxpayers who, by and large, are sacrificing in their own jobs in the private sector paying much more than the 5.8 percent for pension and 12.6 percent for health care I'm asking for -- in fact, in many cases, two or three times that amount. They make tough sacrifices to balance the budgets in their communities and their homes and their businesses. I think it is realistic that we make sure that as loud as the voices are in the capital, we don't let them overpower the voices of the taxpayers I was elected to represent and elected to get the job done, which is balancing this budget.

WALLACE: Well, let's talk about that. You say this is not about the unions. This is about balancing the budget. But your opposition says this is about union busting.

So, let's take a look at what is in your plan because beyond making public workers pay more for benefits, here's what your plan would do. It would allow unions to negotiate only over wages, not benefits or work rules. The state would no longer collect union dues and unions would have to win an election every year to keep representing workers.

Isn't that union-busting?

WALKER: No, absolutely not. Our belief is that we're going to ask more for health care and more for pension contribution which is, by the way, very realistic.

My brother is a typical middle class family. He's a catering manager for a hotel here in Wisconsin. His wife works for Sears. They've got two beautiful girls. A typical, Wisconsin middle class family.

He told me last week and he reminded me, he said, Scott, hey, I'm paying almost $800 a year -- or a month, excuse me, to pay for my health care and to set aside the little bit I put in terms of my 401(k). He'd love, like most every other worker in the state would love, to have the deal we're putting on the table for our state and local government workers.

WALLACE: But, Governor, I want to talk about the specific things about collective bargaining and saying that unions have to hold elections every year and that's what your critics say is union- busting, not the argument about the money issues.

WALKER: But the two go hand in hand. If we're going to ask our state and local workers who are doing a great job to pay a little bit more, to sacrifice, to help to balance this budget, we should also give them the flexibility saying that for those members, for those workers, who don't want to be a part of the union, if you don't want that deduction each month out of the paycheck, they should be able to get that $500, $600 or in some cases, $1,000 back that they can apply for their health care and their pension contribution.

For us, if you want to have democracy, if you want to have the American way, which is allowing people to have a choice, that's exactly what we're allowing there. People see the value, they see the work, they can continue to vote to certify that union and they can continue to voluntarily have those union dues, and write the check out and give it to the union to make their case, but they shouldn't be forced to be a part of this if that's not what they want to do.

WALLACE: Just really get --

WALKER: And, Chris, one other quick thing on this.

WALLACE: Go ahead.

WALKER: The other thing that's important to remember -- they talk about worker rights. Wisconsin, several generations before collective bargaining was legal here in the state of Wisconsin, we passed at the turn of the last century, the strongest civil service protections in the country. There is no state that has a better civil service system in terms of protections.

That does not change in this. Worker rights will be maintained even after our bill passes.

WALLACE: This gets to a bigger question, and that is whether or not you think there's something structural here, that -- that the way the system has developed over the years, public employees and public employee unions have the upper hand when it comes to negotiation with state or local governments. Do you think that the public worker unions have gotten too powerful?

WALKER: Absolutely. There's no doubt about it. Like I said, for eight years I was a local official, a county official. I saw firsthand for me at the county level, for every school district, for every city, county town board out there, and they've been asking for this.

This -- this didn't just come up after Republicans took the majorities last November. For decades, local government officials have been asking for these sorts of controls so that they can balance the budgets.

So the counter is, and I saw this at the local level, what they would try and force us to do, to say go ahead, lay 500, 600 hundred people off. We don't care. You can't touch our benefits.

In this case, if we don't do it in Wisconsin, it's 5,000 to 6,000 state government workers who'd have to be laid off, it's another 5,000 and 6,000 local government workers in a state that has a 7.5 percent unemployment rate, which thank God is better than the national level, but still too high to be acceptable in Wisconsin. I can't have anybody laid off. I don't want a single person laid off in the public nor in the private sector, and that's why this is a much better alternative than to losing jobs.

WALLACE: Governor, the same kind of thing, the idea of trying to make unions give up some of their collective bargaining rights is going on in Ohio, in Indiana, in Tennessee and a bunch of other states. Some people are say that what's going on in your state and you're involved in right now is a watershed. This is a Ronald Reagan and the air controllers moment. Is it a test case for the power of government versus the power of the public employee unions?

WALKER: Well, I do think it has large ramifications, and I'm proud of the fact that it was Wisconsin who led the way when it came to welfare reform and education reform under my friend Tommy Thompson in the '90s. Potentially it could be leading the way when it comes to budgetary and fiscal reform in this country.

But this is not something new to me. I've spent eight years before this as account executive, trying to do exactly the same thing. I talked about it in the campaign, I talked about this transition. I talked about it since I took office, and if we're going to be in this together and our $3.6 billion budget deficit, it's going to take a whole lot more than just employee contributions when it comes to pension and healthcare.

But it's got to be a piece of the puzzle, because as I saw at the local level, it's like a virus that eats up more and more of the budget if you don't get it under control. This it about balancing not only our next budget but the budgets two, four, six years into the future.

Now, I think right now frugality is in. People expect us to make tough decisions to make sure we don't pass the buck on to our kids and our grand kids, and that's exactly what we're doing here in Wisconsin.

WALLACE: Governor, we have less than 30 seconds left. Before we went on, you we telling me that you've been talking to some of the other governors, like John Kasich in Ohio. What are they saying to you, hang in there?

WALKER: Well, absolutely. You know, whether it's him or Chris Christie, or Mitch Daniels or Tim Pawlenty, a lot of other folks around the country, they're saying hang in there. You're doing the right thing.

And, amazingly, I got in one day 19,000 e-mails in Friday, the overwhelming majority saying stay the right course, you're doing the right thing, and it's always good when you're doing things for the right reason. And that's what we're doing here in Wisconsin.

WALLACE: Governor Walker, thank you so much for joining us today. We very much appreciate it, and we'll stay on top of this story.

WALKER: Thank you, Chris.

WALLACE: Up next, the fight over government spending here in Washington. The House approved huge cuts early Saturday morning. We'll ask two key senators what happens next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: Now, that the House had approved a measure with deep cuts to keep the federal government in business until the fall, attention turns to the Senate, and we're joined by two senators who will be key players in the budget fight.

From Muskogee, Oklahoma, Republican Tom Coburn; and from St. Louis, Democrat Claire McCaskill.

Senators, the House passed a budget bill early Saturday morning that would cut current spending by $61 billion, and let's look at some of the key provisions. It would ban all funding to implement healthcare reform, ban all funding for Planned Parenthood. It would cut spending for the National Institutes of Health by $1.6 billion, and job training by $2 billion.

Senator McCaskill does the House bill stand a chance in the Senate or is it dead on arrival?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, D-MO.: Well, I wouldn't call it dead. I think the Democrats in the Senate and I think the White House are committed to making cuts. I think cuts have to happen.

The question is what are the priorities here? Are we going to take a weed whacker to education funding in this country while we let millionaires continue to deduct interest on their second home? That doesn't seem to be the right priority.

So I hope everyone's willing to compromise. I think we're all going to -- I hope everyone is going to sit down and work this out. I'm a little worried that the Republicans in the House are so anxious to threaten shutting down the government.

WALLACE: But -- but if you say that you're willing to cut, all right, and -- and there's certainly an argument to be made about what should -- what you're going to cut. They want $61 billion from current spending. How much are you willing to cut from current spending?

MCCASKILL: Well, I think certainly there's on the table a $41 billion cut. I think that --

WALLACE: Wait, wait, Senator, that's a -- that's a phony cut because that is $41 billion from the president's budget, that's -- that which hasn't ever been enacted. It -- it would actually not cut at all from current spending.

They want to cut $61 billion from current spending. How much are you willing to cut?

MCCASKILL: I think -- I can't speak for the entire Senate, Chris. I can tell you I'm willing to cut. I've been working on trying to get the federal government spending reined in along with Senator Sessions from Alabama for over a year. So certainly I know there's a lot of us that are willing to cut, and we're sitting -- willing to sit down and negotiate.

We might want some different cuts than the ones in education that the House has done. I, for one, am not happy about the cuts in border security. I mean, for gosh sakes, we've had everybody talking about secure the borders, secure the borders, secure the borders, and then instead of making some reasonable adjustments in checks we write to oil companies, they're cutting border security.

WALLACE: All right, let me --

MCCASKILL: So I think we need to look at the priorities.

WALLACE: Let me bring in Senator Coburn. Do you support the overall level of $61 billion in cuts from current spending, and what about senator McCaskill saying well, look, we need to argue about what we cut?

SEN. TOM COBURN, R-OKLA.: Well, first of all, I don't think that's a severe cut. The federal government in terms of discretionary spending is 93 percent bigger than it was in 2001. We're essentially cutting on -- in terms of inflation adjusted dollars, five percent of that growth over the last nine and a half years.

What seems big in Washington when you lay it out for the American people is small. There is so much waste in the federal government that it will be easy. There's no question there's going to be controversy about what the House has done. We can easily cut $61 billion. We should be cutting $100 billion, and we should be reforming other major programs.

And I would just say Claire McCaskill has agreed to work on a lot of these issues when some of her colleagues haven't because she recognizes that we're going to -- we're going to make these cuts, Chris, sooner or later.

COBURN: We can say they're extraordinary, but we're either going to make them or we're going to be told to make them by the people that own our bonds.

WALLACE: What we're talking about here is a measure that would extend the continuing resolution which funds the government, which runs out on March 4th. And let's take a look at the calendar because this becomes all-important now. The continuing resolution, as I say, runs out March 4, a week from Friday, but the Senate in your infinite wisdom is on recess all this week until next Monday, February 28, which means you'll have only four days before the CR expires.

Senator McCaskill, is the Senate going to be able to pass a new budget plan and work out a deal with the House in four days, or are you going to need an extension of the continuing resolution?

MCCASKILL: I think we're serious about making cuts. I think we're serious about negotiating. I think we can sit down immediately and begin working on that. We may need to extend slightly the current situation for a few days to get a compromise that works for the American people.

You know, keep in mind, Chris, that the cuts have come in a very small part of the budget. Give Tom Coburn credit. As a member of the fiscal commission, he stepped up, along with Democrats Durbin and Conrad, and said, you know, we've got to look at the entire budget, not just 18 percent of the budget. We've got to look at the whole shebang, and I hope that we do this in a comprehensive way, not just take a weed whacker to the discretionary domestic budget while letting the Pentagon off scot-free.

WALLACE: All right. But I want to keep a focus on this issue. What you just said is we're probably going to need an extension of the CR for a period of time to try to work out a deal.

Speaker Boehner of the House this week said if there's an extension, there have to be real cuts in it. Let's watch what Boehner said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE JOHN BOEHNER, R-OHIO: I am not going to move any kind of short-term CR at current levels. When we say we're going to cut spending, read my lips, we're going to cut spending.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Senator Coburn, will there have to be cuts in any extension of the CR? And, if not, are we headed for a government shutdown?

COBURN: I don't think we are. I think nobody wants that to happen, and I think everybody realizes that we have to make some significant cuts. And you can't play the waiting game saying, well, we don't want to agree to this now. Give us a month, and we'll get it done in the next month. The fact is, you'll get waited out and you'll still spend the $61 billion this year that we don't need to spend.

So, you know, it's good for political rhetoric to talk about a government shutdown. But I don't know anybody that wants that to happen. And I think cooler heads if, in fact, everybody says, hey, we have to do this and we have to accomplish this, that, hopefully, we'll have some leadership --

WALLACE: But, Senator --

COBURN: -- on both sides of the aisle that will do that.

WALLACE: But, Senator, if I may, I mean, one of two things are going to happen. Either the Democrats and the Senate and the White House are going to have to agree to current cuts in spending -- cuts in current spending, maybe not the whole $61 billion, but some cuts to get an extension, or Boehner's going to have to back off what you just heard him say. Which is it?

COBURN: Well, you know, I can't answer that question for you. But I can tell you that 75 percent of the American public wants us to cut the size and scope of the federal government. And that Democrat and Republican. That's libertarian and conservative and liberal.

So if you deny the American people what they know to be true, is that we cannot continue living beyond our means and that we're getting ready to collapse in terms of our financial financing of our debt, then it is ridiculous to say that the children in Washington can't come together and cut some spending.

WALLACE: So let me put this to you, Senator McCaskill, are you willing to agree to some cuts in an extension of the continuing resolution or are Democrats going to say, no, we won't do that and we'll have a government shutdown?

MCCASKILL: Well, I'm going to be optimistic that everyone behaves like adults here and we can sit down and get this worked out. But the person who brought up a government shutdown was John Boehner and the House Republicans. They're the ones that are trying to --

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: Well, he just says he wants to have cuts. He's not calling for a government shutdown. He says, I want cuts.

MCCASKILL: We -- we all want cuts. He is the one that's saying that he won't even do a week or two days or four days. It's silly. The bottom line is we all want cuts. We can find a compromise. We can make serious and significant cuts in this government with some wasteful programs without going out at the heart of education funding, without cutting border security. We can do that.

Now, if we don't want to make political points and if we're not posturing for the extreme elements of our party, we can all sit down and find those compromises, and that's Boehner ought to be emphasizing, not saying I refuse anything. He should say, let's negotiate and make some real cuts. We all want to do that.

WALLACE: Senator Coburn, what we've been talking about so far is just the budget for the last -- next seven months of this year. And then we got to deal with 2012, which starts in October, and there are reports that you, Senator Coburn, are working with a bipartisan group, senators from both parties, to try to put the debt commission for trillions of dollars in cuts into effect. That you would set targets for cuts in spending, in entitlements, in tax deductions and if you don't reach them, there would be automatic triggers. How's that going?

COBURN: Well, we're working at it. You hear a lot of stuff assumed in the press that isn't necessarily true. But I can tell you that there's some intellectual honesty in that room and recognizing what some of the political realities are.

But I think a large number of people are committed to try to do it. But it has to be everything. Everything has to be on the table from Social Security to the Defense Department.

You know, I'm convinced there's $50 billion a year in waste in the Defense Department. We can go get it. I am convinced there's hundreds of billions of dollars in waste across a ton of government programs. We can go it.

So I think -- I think there's a commitm

 

CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: I'm Chris Wallace and this is "Fox News Sunday."

(MUSIC)

WALLACE: Wisconsin state capital -- the new frontline in the battle over how to cut government spending. With other states watching, we'll talk with Republican Governor Scott Walker about his plan to change the rules for public employee unions.

And then the president's budget lands on Capitol Hill. Now, the debate over how much to cut. We'll hear from two senators who could hold the key to compromise: Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn and Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill.

Plus, protests spread across the Middle East. We will bring you the latest and ask our Sunday panel if U.S. officials we need to rethink what's happening in the region.

And our power player of the week: a general's wife finds her own way to serve our military.

All right now on "Fox News Sunday".

And hello again from Fox News in Washington.

The political firestorm in Wisconsin over proposed changes to bargaining rights and benefits for government workers intensified this weekend. Here is the latest: an estimated 70,000 demonstrators gathered at the state capitol Saturday -- most of them opposed to the governor's budget plan but also some supporters. Public employees offered to pay more for pensions and health benefits if they can keep their collective bargaining rights. And Senate Democrats remain in hiding out of state so no vote can be taken.

Joining us now: the man pushing the changes, Governor Scott Walker, who comes to us from Madison, Wisconsin.

And, Governor, welcome to "Fox News Sunday."

GOV. SCOTT WALKER, R-WI.: Good to be with you, Chris.

WALLACE: Those 14 Democrats who fled Wisconsin to avoid -- to block a vote in the state senate say they'll come back if you'll sit down with them and work out a compromise and the deal would be that the unions agree on the money issues but they keep their collective bargaining rights.

Governor, are you willing to do that?

WALKER: Well, no. First off, those senate Democrats should realize, if you want to participate in a democracy, you got to be in the arena. And the arena is right here in Madison, Wisconsin. It's not hiding out in Rockford, Illinois, or Chicago, or anywhere else out there. Democracy means you show up and participate.

And they failed to do that. They're walking out on their job. They're doing what's contrast to the many, many thousands, almost 300,000 state and local workers across Wisconsin, who despite those protesters, most of them showed up and did their job like they're paid to do. For us, this is about balancing the budget. We've got a $3.6 billion budget deficit. We are broke. Just like nearly every other state across the country, we're broke.

It's about time somebody stood up and told the truth. And the only way for us to balance the budget at the state level or at the local level is to make sure that we give those local governments the tools they need to balance the budget, and that's what we're proposing.

WALLACE: Yes, but I don't understand. If it's a money issue and balancing the budget and they are willing to concede on the money issues, why isn't that enough? Why do you also have to take back some of their collective bargaining rights?

WALKER: Well, they aren't because, in the end, they can say that, but that's really a red herring. The same groups back in December, after election, before I was sworn in, tried to ram through literally in a lame duck session employee contracts that would have locked things in before I got there. So, they're not really interested. But more critically, I was a county executive, an elected official in Milwaukee County, a county that's never elected Republicans before -- I was there for three different elections because we tried to tackle these very same issues.

And what stood in the way time and time again was collective bargaining. We've got over 1,000 municipalities, 424 school districts, about 72 counties in the state, all of which need to have the power to be able to offset what's going to happen in Wisconsin next week, just like New York, in California, wherever else, has been doing, and that's cutting billions of dollars from local governments.

The difference is, unlike those other states, I want to give those local governments the tools they need to balance the budget now and in the future. They can't do that with the current collective bargaining laws in the state.

WALLACE: Governor, I understand it's the Senate Democrats who took off. But how long are you willing to let the standoff go on? And what would you think of the legislature voting that the Senate Democrats are in contempt of the legislature, and therefore, what they're doing is a crime?

WALKER: Well, on the latter part, my hope is that cooler minds will prevail and by sometime earlier this coming week, they'll show up for their job. I've said all along, the best way to motivate senators to come back is for constituents in their districts, regardless of how they feel about the budget repair bill, to tell the senators to show up to their job they're paid to do.

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