Ohio Follows Wisconsin's Lead On Budget Cuts In Ohio, budget cuts and a battle between Republicans and public employee unions are dominating the news. Thousands of union protesters marched at the state Capitol, angry over a push to cut benefits and eliminate collective bargaining. Meanwhile, freshman Republican Rep. Bob Gibbs from Ohio meets with a local Chamber of Commerce and promises to keep up the pressure to cut spending in Washington.
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Ohio Follows Wisconsin's Lead On Budget Cuts

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Ohio Follows Wisconsin's Lead On Budget Cuts

Ohio Follows Wisconsin's Lead On Budget Cuts

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The budget battles taking shape in Washington, D.C. and in states like Wisconsin and Ohio have a few things in common: Huge deficits and newly elected Republicans committed to deep spending cuts.

NPR's Don Gonyea is in Ohio this week, and he's found another common denominator among both supporters and opponents of those budget cuts - economic anxiety.

DON GONYEA: In Columbus this week, the chants of union members gathered inside the atrium of the capitol building echoed with familiarity.

(Soundbite of chanting)

GONYEA: But for these state workers - teachers, firefighters, police officers, clerks and others - the stakes are higher than they've ever been. Bruce Bostick is a retired steelworker who came to lend support.

Mr. BRUCE BOSTICK (Retired Steelworker): What this is about is it's an attack on all working people. It is not just about unions. And now, we're supposed to pay to keep budgets afloat after they've given billionaires an opt-out in this situation. And we say it's about time we had some doggone fairness.

GONYEA: Fifty-year-old Barb Philips is a union school bus driver in Ashland, Ohio. She says the specific provisions now before the Ohio Senate, including ending collective bargaining for unionized state employees, put the unions' very viability at risk.

Ms. BARB PHILIPS (School Bus Driver): Take out the voice of safe workplace. Take the voice out of our rights on even talking with management.

GONYEA: Philips says she sees the current battle as Republican revenge for the health care law passed by the last U.S. Congress controlled by Democrats and signed by President Obama.

Ms. PHILIPS: We had the majority of the House. We had the majority of the Senate. We passed the biggest legislation for health care accessibility for country. That's what I mean about revenge.

GONYEA: Much of the dialogue on government spending, and how and where to cut, has been noisy, as it has been in Columbus.

(Soundbite of protestors chanting)

GONYEA: But the discussion is happening in all kinds of venues.

Mr. TIM FITTERER (Vice President, Truck One): Okay. Well, thank you all for coming this evening and being with us. As you know, with us is Congressman Gibbs this evening. We're going to go around the table and introduce ourselves to the congressman.

GONYEA: This low-key gathering is in the basement conference room of the Licking County Chamber of Commerce in central Ohio. A dozen members of the group's Government Affairs Committee have invited their new Republican congressman, Bob Gibbs, to stop by. Gibbs is a conservative. He's a former state senator, a farmer. He's not a member of the House Tea Party Caucus, but he tells the group he's pleased with the cuts the new Republican-controlled U.S. House has made so far.

Representative BOB GIBBS (Republican, Ohio): People need to start realizing in this country that if we don't change what's happening, we will not have a country. And it's also at best, our kids have a lower standard of living, quality of life. That's at best. At worst, I don't even want to think about it.

GONYEA: Chamber of Commerce member Tim Fitterer says he hopes the Congress takes its work reducing spending very seriously. Fitterer is a vice president with a local trucking firm. He's caught between fear of what the debt means and worries about new and changing regulations for his industry. And, as he tells the congressman, about the fact that he's not feeling the economic recovery.

Mr. FITTERER: We haul freight all over the country and we're dragging still. Congressman, it's not picking up. What it is, is you said uncertainty. I call it fear.

Rep. GIBBS: Well, there is fear. It's part of the uncertainty.

Mr. FITTERER: There is tremendous fear.

GONYEA: Fitterer says that has a huge impact on his business. Fear, too, is driving the protests by union members in Columbus and Madison. It's the one thing they have in common in their very different perspectives on the debate in Washington and in state capitals.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Columbus.

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