MADISON-In a desperate bid for Tea Party favor, Tommy Thompson is seeking to use a proposal to cut pension and health benefits for federal workers as a ruse to deflect questions about $13 million in lobbying wealth he has accrued, his strained relationship with Scott Walker and new evidence showing he once voiced strong support for the right of workers to bargain collectively.
 
Thompson introduces his pension pander after having increased pension benefits for Wisconsin workers by billions of dollars -- including for himself. At the time, he declared it was "the right thing to do."
 
"It must be the Washington lobbyist in him, but you never know what Tommy Thompson is going to say or what position he's going to take as he panders to the Tea Party," Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said Thursday. "One day he's singing union songs with workers and increasing their benefits by billions, the next day he's badmouthing them to Tea Party crowds. Nobody knows who Tommy Thompson is anymore or just what he'll say."
 
Background:
 
Thompson Signed Pension Bill Increasing Pension Benefits For State Employees By Additional $5.5 Billion. “Early in Gov. Tommy G. Thompson’s tenure, he was still working to overcome his legislative reputation as “Dr. No,” a roadblock to new programs. Public employee unions were particularly suspicious, and they had tremendous electoral power in a state where one of 11 employees worked for government. The icebreaker came in 1989, when Thompson signed a bill giving higher benefits to veteran public employees who retired early. ‘Politically, that bill was huge for him,’ said Ed Huck, executive director of the Wisconsin Alliance of Cities, which generally opposed such plans. ‘It changed his persona, especially with the unions.’ The culmination of that kind of deal-making was the 1999 pension bill, which added some $5.5 billion in benefits that will burden state and local taxpayers for decades, while sweetening the retirement of Thompson, legislators and several hundred thousand retirees and public employees.” [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/5/03]
 
Thompson Defended $5.5 Billion Increase In State Pensions During Term As Governor, Called It “The Right Thing To Do.” “Former Gov. Tommy Thompson says he stands by a 1999 deal that has added costs to Wisconsin’s now-ailing state pension plan. Media reports this week detailed how a decline in the stock market has left the fund able to cover just 84 percent of the $60.5 billion promised in benefits for state workers. Taxpayers could be stuck making up the shortfall. In 1999, Thompson signed into law changes that increased the plan by $5.5 billion. ‘It was the right thing to do back then,’ said Thompson, now the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services. ‘When you have negotiated with all the parties, it is the right thing to do.’” [Appleton Post-Crescent, 5/9/03]