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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

 4:36 PM 

Column: Johnson wades into OPM hacking probe

This is an excerpt from Nicole Duran's weekly DC Wrap column. Sign up to get the full column in your inbox each week.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will try to get answers Thursday about two massive hacks on the Office of Personnel Management's databases.

In announcing the Senate hearing, the Oshkosh Republican said the Obama administration and OPM haven't responded thoroughly or quickly enough to the attacks that date back to at least December. The hackings were made public earlier this month, after the first intrusion was detected by OPM in April.

"The Obama administration must better protect the data that Americans entrust to it," Johnson stated. "Notifying those whose data was stolen is only a small, first step. The administration must immediately implement better protection for all data it keeps. It must determine who did this and exactly what was stolen. And it must conduct a swift and proper response against the perpetrators."

OPM chief Katherine Archuleta didn't give Chairman Ron Johnson's House counterpart, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, a firm number about how many current, former and potential federal employees had their information compromised when his panel grilled her last week. But anonymous government officials on Monday said FBI Director James Comey told senators behind closed doors that 18 million Americans were affected.

To date, OPM has only revealed that the sensitive information of 4.2 million federal workers is now in the hands of allegedly Chinese hackers.

Testifying alongside Archuleta on Thursday morning before Johnson's panel will be the government's first-ever chief information officer, Tony Scott; Homeland Security Department cyber official Andy Ozment; and OPM Inspector General Patrick McFarland.

McFarland didn't testify last week before the House oversight panel. The House committee is holding a second hearing on the matter Wednesday.

And a Senate Appropriations panel is delving into the issue. Also last week, the House Financial Services subcommittee led by Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Weston, examined similar malicious cyberattacks on the financial sector.

Read Duran's column for more on this and other DC issues


 1:34 PM 

Fast-track trade authority advances in Senate

U.S. Sens. Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin took opposite sides on a vote today to overcome a filibuster on granting President Obama fast-track trade authority as he negotiates a Pacific trade agreement.

The vote to end debate on the Trade Promotion Authority bill passed 60 to 37, with Johnson, R-Oshkosh, supporting it and Baldwin, D-Madison, opposing it. Sixty votes were needed to end the filibuster.

The Senate still has to vote on final passage, but the bill will need only 51 votes to pass.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

 2:09 PM 

Column: Sensenbrenner gets climate change answer

This is an excerpt from Nicole Duran's weekly DC Wrap column. Sign up to get the full column in your inbox each week.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner has been assured by U.S. Trade Rep. Mark Froman that if Congress grants President Obama authority to bring trade deals to Congress for approval without opportunity for amendment, it won't enable entry into any legally binding international climate-change treaties.

"In addition, the administration is not negotiating language or provisions related to population control, family planning or related topics," the June 12 letter to the Menomonee Falls Republican said.

Sensenbrenner asked Froman -- and carbon-copied fellow Wisconsinite House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, who authored the so-called fast-track legislation -- on June 4 whether either the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership or the EU-wide Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership the administration is negotiating included any such provisions.

The House, with Sensenbrenner's vote, narrowly voted on Friday to grant Obama, and future presidents, trade promotion authority but overwhelmingly sunk an accompanying bill to reauthorize funding for programs that help workers displaced by globalization. Given that the Senate-passed version included reauthorization of trade adjustment assistance, which expires Sept. 30, House leaders plan to bring the bill to the floor again. However, on Tuesday they acknowledged they didn't have enough votes and bought themselves and the administration until July 30 to whip support.

Read Duran's column for more on this and other DC issues


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

 1:07 PM 

Senators stump for Ex-Im Bank during visit to Milwaukee company

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin says it's frustrating that politics are playing a role in whether Congress decides this month to continue the Export-Import Bank.

"What's most frustrating about the idea that politics would play a role in this, is that the Export-Import Bank is actually profitable," Baldwin said. "It returns hundreds of millions of dollars into the federal coffers annually. If it is allowed to expire, there will be financial consequences."

Baldwin, a Madison Democrat, was in Milwaukee yesterday with U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. They toured Prolitec Inc., a 60-employee company that exports its products to 90 countries around the globe, thanks in part to Export-Import-backed loans.

The Export-Import Bank, established in 1934, helps U.S. businesses obtain financing to be able to export products overseas. The bank's charter is set to expire June 30.

Richard Weening, CEO of Prolitec, told WisBusiness.com having access to capital has allowed the firm to ship products to 90 countries.

"We have business operations in 73 of them," he said. "More than half our revenues are from foreign countries."

Weening started his company in 2004 with two employees, and first learned of the Export-Import Bank about six years ago. The firm makes commercial air-freshening equipment, as well as a variety of liquid fragrances that the equipment disperses.

Weening told reporters that the company still goes through local banks for financing, but that having the backing of the Export-Import Bank is crucial.

Baldwin and Cantwell -- who is leading the effort in the Senate to reauthorize the bank charter -- say small businesses are key beneficiaries of this type of government assistance and that jobs are at stake.

"In Wisconsin, it's been very clear that small- and medium-sized businesses have a tremendous advantage because of the existence of the Export-Import Bank," Baldwin told reporters. "Having been also on visits to many larger businesses that do business with the Export-Import Bank, there's not a one of them that I know that doesn't have suppliers that are small and medium-sized businesses ... so there's a ripple effect."

Cantwell cited the need for "available tools" to help businesses "compete in the 21st century."

Cantwell, who's also traveling to New Hampshire, Georgia, Oregon and her home state of Washington to promote the Export-Import Bank, warned, "If we let this charter expire, we will put American jobs at risk and American exporters will be at a disadvantage from other countries that actually have the same kinds of credit agencies."

-- By Kay Nolan
For WisBusiness.com


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

 11:59 AM 

Column: Kind calls TPA precursor to NAFTA 'do-over’

This is an excerpt from Nicole Duran's weekly DC Wrap column. Sign up to get the full column in your inbox each week.

Western Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind says he's one of fewer than 20 House Democrats willing to give President Obama-- and his successors-- the ability to seek congressional sign-off on trade deals without the opportunity for amendment.

His reasoning: it's the first step toward correcting mistakes in past treaties, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"If we want a trade agreement based on our rules" and not China's, for example "this is the process that gets us there," said the La Crosse Democrat who heads the congressional New Democrats Coalition on trade promotion, or fast-track, authority.

He said every president since Franklin Roosevelt, with the exception of President Nixon, has been allowed to negotiate trade deals in the streamlined process outlined in expired TPA legislation. It is necessary to get other countries to sign agreements such as the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and EU-wide Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership under negotiation. Otherwise, leaders of those nations fear that what an administration presents them is not the final product, and that Congress's 535 "independent contractors" will significantly alter the terms, Kind said.

"What people are upset about is the status quo," Kind said, referring to many congressional Democrats who oppose trade deals because they believe such agreements cause Americans to lose their jobs, factories to move overseas and employers to lower wages while doing nothing to foster higher environmental and labor standards abroad . "We need to level the playing field," which can only be done through TPA, TPP and TTIP, he explained.

Kind pointed out that Mexico and Canada are parties to TPP, which gives the U.S. a chance to overhaul its trade relationship with those two countries. "Very seldom do you get a do-over" with trade deals but that is what TPP is, he said.

Kind said the "race to the bottom" in terms of labor, environmental and human rights standards happens in countries with which the U.S. has no agreement, he countered. "We want [other nations] to elevate their standards."

Rep. Mark Pocan is helping lead Democratic opposition to TPA, TPP and TTIP. He doesn't buy Kind's argument, which echoes that of the White House.

"I truly believe that the White House feels this is good for geopolitical reasons," he said. But when he looks at his Madison-based district, he doesn't see potential benefits.

Pocan read the draft TPP chapters on labor, environment and human rights. "I would argue there is some marginally better language in the labor chapter and weaker in the environmental chapter," he said. "But the bottom line is, both lack meaningful enforcement" mechanisms. "They don't have teeth."

Read Duran's column for more on this and other DC issues


Thursday, June 4, 2015

 2:28 PM 

Column: Ribble tired of congressional inaction on highway bill

This is an excerpt from Nicole Duran's weekly DC Wrap column. Sign up to get the full column in your inbox each week.

Last week President Obama signed another short-term extension funding federal infrastructure, mass transit and highway projects but Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Appleton, said that if he were Obama, he would have vetoed it.

"I'm not kicking the can down the road anymore," he said, explaining why he voted against the extension before Congress adjourned for a weeklong Memorial Day recess.

If Obama vetoed something that Congress sent over regarding transportation funding, "it would force our hands to do something," Ribble said. "If I was sitting in his chair, that's exactly what I would do. But then I voted 'no.' I registered my veto then."

Ribble's exasperation with funding long-term transportation projects with only months-long authority is shared by the White House.

The patch Obama signed was the 33rd short-term fix for the Highway Trust Fund fund since 2008, White House spokesman Josh Earnest complained last week. "According to one estimate, the uncertainty around the Highway Trust Fund has led a number of states to delay projects totaling $2 billion," he said. "So it's the President's view that the era of short-term patches and chronic under-investment in our transportation infrastructure must come to an end."

Ribble has introduced a bill that would force Congress to find a long-term source to keep the Highway Trust Fund's coffers full. It relies on the gas tax, which hasn't been raised in decades and, therefore, doesn't provide enough revenue to keep up with demand.

Ribble and fellow Republican Jim Renacci of Ohio joined Democratic Reps. Dan Lipinski of Illinois and Bill Pascrell of New Jersey in introducing the Bridge to Sustainable Infrastructure Act in April. It would require lawmakers to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent for a decade by finding new revenue streams and implementing spending cuts, such as corporate tax repatriation and replacing the gas tax with a fee based on mileage.

House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, advocates corporate tax repatriation, which encourages U.S.-based companies to bring overseas earnings back home by offering a lower tax rate, to fill the Trust Fund's current shortfall, but acknowledges that it is a one-time fix and that Congress must find a permanent solution.

Ribble said that he and Ryan are good friends but that they fundamentally disagree on the funding issue -- Ryan doesn't support the "trigger" in Ribble's legislation that could see the gas tax rise if Congress can't decide on an alternate revenue source -- and that Ryan's committee has many priorities to juggle beyond the highway funding problem.

"This is clearly not a priority for him," Ribble said, adding that the trust fund's $16 billion shortfall pales in comparison to the costs of other problems the Ways and Means Committee deals with.

"Congressman Ryan remains opposed to raising gas taxes and is committed to finding a solution to finance our infrastructure," a Ryan spokesman said in response. "Getting an agreement on highways is a priority for Congressman Ryan as Ways and Means chairman and he will continue to work with his colleagues, like Congressman Ribble, on this issue."

Read Duran's column for more on this and other DC issues


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

 5:24 PM 

Baldwin, Johnson split on USA Freedom Act

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, split today on the USA Freedom Act.

Johnson voted yes on the bill, which cleared 67-32, while Baldwin was the only Dem member to vote no. Independent Bernie Sanders, who's running for president as a Dem but lists his affiliation in the Senate as independent, also opposed the bill. 

Baldwin said the bill makes important reforms, but did not go far enough “to protect the privacy and freedoms of law abiding Americans.” She voted against the Patriot Act more than a decade ago while in the House.

"I voted against this bill because it doesn’t take action on the warrantless search loophole and still allows for government overreach, abuses and infringement on the freedoms guaranteed by our constitution,” she said.

Johnson said it is difficult to strike the right balance between providing the tools necessary to stop terrorism and ensuring congressional oversight of those programs to protect civil liberties.
“Though not perfect, the USA Freedom Act preserves important tools to combat espionage and terrorism while sincerely trying to protect our freedoms,” Johnson said.

The legislation, co-authored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, overhauls the government's program to collect bulk phone data. Phone companies would now hold the records, and the government would have to show there is an association with a foreign power or terrorist group to obtain them.

The bill had been held up while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to extend the original provisions in the Patriot Act. The bill now heads to the president, who has indicated his support.

"The Senate should have acted before three national security provisions expired, but we are pleased that this historic piece of legislation is now on its way to becoming the law of the land," Sensenbrenner and his House co-authors said in a joint statement.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

 1:43 PM 

Johnson explains his vote for Sensenbrenner's USA Freedom Act

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson tells WisPolitics he voted for the USA Freedom Act because he "recognized reality," despite his belief that limiting NSA monitoring of citizens' telephone calls "is hampering our ability to do effective intelligence gathering."

The House bill, co-authored by U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, received 57 votes late last week, three votes shy of what was needed to advance the legislation after it had already cleared the House. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., favors a re-authorization of the full Patriot Act, leaving the Senate in a last-minute scramble as some provisions in the law are set to expire.

Johnson said "it's a shame the way this debate's gone," but added "because of mischaracterizations, if the public opinion wants that program shut down, it will be."

Johnson said he hopes to vote for a future bill that "gives us more transition time" to make sure the U.S. government can do "queries" to get information to "shut down some very real plots." He called members of the NSA "true patriots" who defend Americans' freedom in a similar way as the military.

Johnson spoke with WisPolitics.com after addressing members of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, where he minced no words on matters ranging from Cuba to regulatory relief.

Johnson described the need to streamline the process for large construction projects to obtain permits and overcome environmental hurdles part of an overall fight against laws that hamper economic growth.

He lamented what he called a "cultural attitude" that "government is good and business is bad," giving as an example the animated "LEGO" movie, in which the villain is called "Lord Business."

"That's done for a reason," Johnson said. "They're starting that propaganda, and it's insidious."

Johnson told MMAC members that some projects take up to eight years to overcome environmental concerns and achieve permits. Some pending legislation seeks to cut that timeframe to two years or less.

Johnson said he and other supporters are seeking stories from business leaders who want fewer layers of regulatory hoops.

"We actually had the chancellor of the UW-Madison come to our office a few months ago to ask for regulatory relief from the U.S. government," Johnson said. "Happy to help her, I told her, 'Welcome to the party.'"

Johnson had praise for President Obama, however, when members of the audience questioned Johnson's support for the Trade Promotion Authority bill.

"This is our only chance," said Johnson. "If we had not done this, trust me, under a Republican president, we would not get trade promotion authority. The only reason we're getting this is President Obama was willing to fight for it and we got enough Democratic support in the Senate to pass it."

Johnson called for heads to roll at the Tomah VA hospital.

"You've got to fire bad people," he said. "If you've got bad actors who continue to do harm and they're not fired, it sends a really bad signal within an organization. We're trying to give the VA the authority to do that, whether they want to or not."

Asked about Cuba, Johnson repeated his assertion that Obama overstepped his authority by re-establishing trade with the country. Johnson said he admitted that 50 years of embargoes did not resolve prior conflicts but said the U.S. ought to "ratchet up sanctions" against Cuba, just as it should with Iran.

Asked about how to stem illegal immigration, Johnson called border security "a big old mess, a witch's stew" and blamed poor border control on "our insatiable demand for drugs."

Johnson said that of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., "8.1 million are working -- and working hard." Johnson called for making those individuals legal "guest workers," adding that "We will not get Americans to fill those positions, there's no way, because we tell all of our kids to get a four-year degree."

-- By Kay Nolan
For WisPolitics.com


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