Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's new budget has such major slashes that even the GOP is getting nervous about it. Of course it does sport a number of characteristics one would expect Republicans to champion, like cuts to environmental programs and schools, but with the first votes looming on Walker's two-year plan, it seems that local Republicans think he's finally pushed too far when it comes to the disabled and the elderly.
The budget hacks away at some of Wisconsin's most important programs for seniors. Walker is looking to cut $15 million from SeniorCare, a prescription drug assistance program for residents who are 65 and older. The program assists over 85,000 Wisconsin residents at low cost, but Walker wants to shift pharmaceutical costs to Medicare Part D, which would be more costly for those enrolled in the program.
Walker has accepted federal money to help fund Medicare Part D, but has refused to take money to fund Medicaid.
"The hypocrisy is piping hot on this one," Rep. Andy Jorgensen told a local media outlet. That same story quoted 73-year-old Judith Joslin-Crary, whose household has to pay for six separate prescriptions for her and her husband. The couple have already sold their house in an effort to free up more money for medicine. "They talk about going from steak to hamburger, but at this age most of us are already at hamburger and we're looking at going without," she said, "You jump for joy when you have a program like SeniorCare come along and you just cross your fingers and you hope that they don't mess with it."
Walker is also taking aim at a Wisconsin program called IRIS, which is an option for Wisconsin residents with long-term needs that allows the disabled to select their own caregivers and provides them with a budget for support services. Walker wants to cut $19 million from the program, which according to a story in the Wisconsin Gazette, adds up to about one million fewer hours of personal care. IRIS provides a safety net for many of Wisconsin's most vulnerable citizens. "I don't like to be controlled," Kelley Santi, an IRIS recipient with cerebral palsy told the Wisconsin-Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I'm not totally independent, but I like to make my own decisions. I'm 46 years old. I don't need somebody to direct me. If I lose IRIS, it would be a really big chunk of my life."
According to a recent Public Policy Polling survey, Walker's approval rating is as low as it has been since the massive protests of 2011. This means that Republicans who back the budget without caveats are exposing themselves to a potential backlash from voters. As a result, local conservatives are working to scale back the extent of the cuts. However, Republicans who criticize Walker too harshly could inadvertently put themselves outside the governor's Koch-backed circle and face political repercussions when election season rolls around.
It remains to be seen whether resistance to the budget will culminate in something like the protests of 2011 or whether he'll be allowed to make Wisconsin an even scarier place for the economically disadvantaged.