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Bob Schieffer Wonders if Union Protests Make Wisconsin 'The Tunisia of American Politics'

On CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday, host Bob Schieffer interviewed Wisconsin Republican Congressman Paul Ryan and compared union protests in that state to the democracy movements spreading across the Middle East: "There are also reports that this could spread to at least nine other states....Is Madison, Wisconsin, Congressman, the Tunisia of American politics now?"

At the top of the broadcast, Schieffer declared "protests at home and abroad" and moments later, he touted the size and duration of the demonstrations in Wisconsin: "For the fourth day in a row and in the largest turnout yet, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets again in Madison, Wisconsin as they marched to protest major cuts in state spending. The question is, will the protests spread to other states where similar proposals to cut spending are also being contemplated?"

Schieffer continued to emphasize the scale of the protests as he asked Ryan: "You got these big demonstrations going on. This is your home state, Wisconsin, where I think they had 70,000 people turned out yesterday....Is this something that is going to spread here?"

In addition to discussing Wisconsin budget cutting, Schieffer used the topic to transition to the debate over the federal budget: "As demonstrators took to the streets again in Wisconsin, it raised the question, can Republicans hold public support for the huge budget cuts they passed last week?" He pressed Ryan on the cuts proposed by the House GOP: "Republicans push through $61 billion in cuts early Saturday morning. Is that sustainable?... I can't find anyone who believes the Senate is going to go along with cuts this deep. So what happens now?" Schieffer urged him to consider a "more realistic" budget plan.

Here is a transcript of the February 20 exchange between Schieffer and Ryan:

10:30AM ET TEASE:

BOB SCHIEFFER: Today on Face the Nation, protests at home and abroad. Could a government shutdown in this country really happen?

CROWD: This is what Democracy looks like.

SCHIEFFER: As demonstrators took to the streets again in Wisconsin, it raised the question, can Republicans hold public support for the huge budget cuts they passed last week? With the two sides so far apart is a government shutdown more likely now?

10:31AM ET SEGMENT:

SCHIEFFER: And good morning again. For the fourth day in a row and in the largest turnout yet, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets again in Madison, Wisconsin as they marched to protest major cuts in state spending. The question is, will the protests spread to other states where similar proposals to cut spending are also being contemplated?

And what impact will it have on efforts here in Washington to reduce spending where Republicans push through $61 billion in cuts early Saturday morning. Is that sustainable? Is there any way the Senate is going to go along? And if not, does that mean the government will have to shut down?

Congressman Paul Ryan, the head of the Budget Committee, is back home this morning in Wisconsin. You were one of the engineers of these cuts, Congressman. But I can't find anyone who believes the Senate is going to go along with cuts this deep. So what happens now?

RYAN: Well, I think you're right. I don't think the Senate will pass this cut. We will have to negotiate. Look, we're not looking for a government shutdown, but at the same time we're also not looking at rubber stamping these really high elevated spending levels that Congress blew through the joint two years ago. You know, they increased spending by 24% on domestic and discretionary two years ago, 84% when you add the stimulus. And they want to keep that status quo locked in place. So we want real spending cuts. We don't want to accept these extremely high levels of spending while we negotiate how to continue funding the government.

SCHIEFFER: Well how then, Senator - I mean, Congressman - give me the starting point. Where do you think would be a good place to start talking about how to get together with the Senate on something more realistic?

RYAN: Well, our goal is to bring spending back down to pre-bailout, pre-stimulus spending levels, 2008 levels. My guess is we'll probably have some short-term extensions while we negotiate these things with spending cuts. We don't want to accept these extremely high elevated levels, and so we're going to have to start negotiating on these things, not just with the Senate but also with the President as well. You know, I'm not going to go through negotiating through the media, with all due respect, but we are not going to accept these extremely high levels of spending. We're not looking for a government shutdown. And I think we'll have some negotiations with short-term extensions with spending cuts in the interim is my guess.

SCHIEFFER: Alright. You got these big demonstrations going on. This is your home state, Wisconsin, where I think they had 70,000 people turned out yesterday. There are also reports that this could spread to at least nine other states where similar proposals are being talked about among state governments. Is Madison, Wisconsin, Congressman, the Tunisia of American politics now? Are we going to see the kinds of demonstrations - not the kinds of demonstrations we saw and are seeing across the Arab part of the world, but-

RYAN: No, no.

SCHIEFFER: Is this something that is going to spread here?

RYAN: Well, look, this is an example of the kinds of fiscal and budget pressures all levels of government are experiencing. So, yes, I think Ohio you already have this kind of activity going on right now. But we have a proud tradition in Wisconsin of people going out to the streets and expressing themselves. That's a good thing.

But we've got a huge budget shortfall here in Madison. What our governor is trying to do address this in a structural way, to ask for modest shared sacrifice among public employees and to give local governments the tools to do the same. These are the things that governors all around the states are looking at. And again it just shows the point: all levels of government have been making empty promises to people. And these governors are telling people the truth. We need to do the same thing in Washington. It just goes to show that we can't keep borrowing, can't keep spending and making empty promises to people. We've got to tell the truth. And we've got to fix these problems. And the sooner we do this, the better off everybody is going to be.

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- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.