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Thursday, January 29, 2015

 5:20 PM 

Baldwin, Johnson split on Keystone vote

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, joined a majority of his colleagues this afternoon in backing the Keystone XL pipeline.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, voted against the legislation, which cleared the Senate 62-36. She said the issue has dragged on too long already and the president should make a decision. But Congress should not be approving individual pipelines.

"If constructed, Keystone XL oil would flow from Canada, through American communities, and would be exported to other countries -- potentially leading to increases in gas prices in the Midwest," Baldwin said. "This would be a price Wisconsin families and businesses should not have to pay."

President Obama has vowed to veto the legislation, which did not garner enough support in either house for a veto override. The two houses also passed different bills and would have to sign off on the same legislation before it could go to the president.

Johnson called on the president to "drop his irrational, politically motivated opposition" and sign the bill. He said multiple studies have shown building the pipeline is the most environmentally sound way of transporting oil from Canada.

"There is no good reason for the administration to continue blocking the project, and I am pleased that senators from both parties agree," Johnson said.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

 10:58 AM 

Pocan joins group opposing 'fast-track' authority

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan joined a coalition of labor and environmental groups called the BlueGreen Alliance in urging Congress against extending "fast-track" authority for international trade deals.

The now-expired authority would allow the Obama administration to negotiate trade deals that Congress could vote for or against, but not filibuster or amend.

"Congress must not make the same Fast-Track mistake of the past," Pocan, D-Madison, said in a BlueGreen Alliance statement. "We have seen how trade agreements like NAFTA and the Korean Free Trade Agreement, passed using the Fast-Track process, have turned out to be a bad deal for American workers and the environment. I support fair trade, but I cannot support greasing the skids for trade agreements that could end up destroying more American jobs and weakening U.S. environmental protections."

Read more


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

 11:59 AM 

Johnson tackles cybersecurity

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

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, is wasting no time implementing his legislative agenda. After holding an organizational meeting and appointing subcommittee chairmen, his Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold its first hearing Wednesday on cybersecurity.

Titled "Protecting America from Cyber Attacks: The Importance of Information Sharing," the hearing will examine an area Johnson cited as a top priority even before he officially became chairman.

Cybersecurity is a problem "everyone recognizes needs to be addressed," Johnson said in a recent interview. The Sony Pictures case, in which North Korea allegedly hacked into the movie studio's system in retaliation for the movie "The Interview," was a glaring reminder that Congress has yet to pass comprehensive legislation, he said.

He said it's a "serious issue of national security" but that vested interests such as civil liberty and privacy advocates and trial lawyers have held up progress. Attorneys want to "sue just about anyone for just about anything," making finding compromise difficult, he said. Every time he asks experts what the first step is, the answer is information sharing between the private sector and government, he said. However, that can only be achieved if the private sector is indemnified from lawsuits, which trial lawyers object to, he said.

Lawmakers came close to passing broad cybersecurity legislation in the last few Congresses. But final movement ultimately stalled in part because Congress has yet to react to revelations that the National Security Agency, relying on authority granted by the USA Patriot Act, collected information from Americans' telephone records in bulk.

Are the Sony hack and similar attacks on other major U.S. businesses enough to put cybersecurity legislation over the finish line this time? Says Johnson: "I'm not really confident." He adds that he has seen few bills become laws since joining the Senate in 2011.

Among the witnesses scheduled to testify at Wednesday's hearing were: Marc Gordon, chief information officer at American Express, and Microsoft's Scott Charney, who oversees the company's cybersecurity initiative.

The committee already has approved a streamlined subcommittee structure that takes the number of permanent sub panels down one, to three, and realigns jurisdiction. Most notably, no subcommittee lists oversight of the District of Columbia in its title. Madison's Tammy Baldwin was named ranking Democrat of the newly named Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management panel, which is led by Kentucky Republican Rand Paul.

Read the full column


Thursday, January 22, 2015

 11:10 PM 

Baldwin calls for hearing on opiate overprescription at Tomah VA

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, under fire from Republicans over her handling of a report detailing the overprescription of opiates at the Tomah VA, today called for Senate hearings on the matter.

Baldwin, D-Madison, noted in today's call for a hearing that after being contacted by a constituent in March, she wrote the Tomah VA Medical Center, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA Office of Inspector General.

But she hasn't detailed any actions she took after receiving a report Aug. 29 that described the prescribing practices at the facility, which some patients had dubbed "Candyland" because of the amount of opiates prescribed.

She wrote Sen. Johnny Isakson, chair of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, today asking for a hearing that would look at prescription practices across the VA network. She expressed concern the problems were not unique to Tomah.

"I believe that more needs to be done to ensure that our nation's veterans receive the timely, safe, and highest-quality care that they have earned," she wrote.

Earlier this week, GOP state Reps. Ken Skowronski, chair of the Assembly Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, and Nancy VanderMeer, the committee vice chair, sent Baldwin a letter asking if her office reviewed the August report and if so why there was no response.

"It is disturbing that no actions were taken and as a result, our veterans suffered," they wrote.

Baldwin's office did not immediately respond to a request for reaction to the letter.

See Baldwin's release:
http://www.baldwin.senate.gov/press-releases/baldwin-calls-for-hearing-on-va-prescribing-practices 

See the letter from Skowronski and VanderMeer:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/_150120Vets.pdf 


 9:06 PM 

Ryan says GOP, Obama can find common ground on trade

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan said today Republicans may be able to work with President Obama on his trade initiatives, but saw little other area for common ground after this week's State of the Union address.

Ryan, R-Janesville and the House Ways and Means chair, and other Republicans have held out the possibility of overhauling the nation's tax code.

But Ryan told a conference call of Wisconsin reporters that's up in the air following the president's call to raise some taxes as part of a middle-class relief package. He called the code "an absolutely mess" that is "costing us jobs."

"Whether we can get there with this president or not, I don't know the answer to that question," Ryan said. "But it won't be for lack of trying."

Still, Ryan sided with the president on his push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal with 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

Ryan also hoped Republicans would be able to work with the president on legislation to avoid a looming drop-off in Medicaid payments to physicians and a highway bill, areas he's previously raised as possible areas of compromise.

Ryan said he wouldn't support an increase in the gas tax to bolster the Highway Trust Fund, which he warned could go bankrupt this spring.

Instead, he said tax reform could be one path to addressing the fund's long-term future, adding that expanding gas and oil exploration on federal land could help as well. Doing the latter would bring in more fees to the federal government, help lower gas prices, increase jobs and drop dependency on foreign countries for oil.

"That's an area that many of us think is a win-win," Ryan said.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

 4:23 PM 

Though Thompson likes it, gas tax boost appears to be a non-starter with House Republicans

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

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- It's a lot easier to propose raising taxes once you're out of elected office.

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson became one of the latest ex-electeds to mention something most current politicians would find unpalatable when he suggested that raising the gasoline tax to replenish the soon-to-be-bankrupt Highway Trust Fund would be a move voters probably wouldn't even notice.

In discussing potential areas of compromise between the GOP-led Congress and President Barack Obama, Thompson noted the recent drop in gas prices present a relatively painless way for Congress to help states repair the nation's decaying highways and bridges -- and grow the economy and create new jobs.

"With fuel prices going down ... just put a dollar on the gasoline tax, some people are going to go crazy about it, but truth of the matter is you probably aren't even going to see it," Thompson told a WisPolitics.com audience at a D.C. luncheon last week.

That idea was almost immediately shot down by Wisconsin politicians who still plan on facing voters.

The very next day, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, who took the gavel of the House's powerful tax-writing committee earlier this month, ruled out any such "compromise."

"We won't pass a gas tax," Ryan said during congressional Republicans' retreat in Hershey, Pa., according to Bloomberg.

The gasoline tax, which is the Highway Trust Fund's sole source of revenue, hasn't been increased since 1993. And politicians of all stripes have suggested raising it as a way to boost the fund that Congress only temporarily kept from running into the red last year.

One of Thompson's successors, Gov. Scott Walker, apparently agrees with Ryan. Walker has said he isn't keen on upping the gas tax to pay for highway and transportation projects for Wisconsin's own transportation fund.

Read the full column


 12:44 PM 

Congressional Republicans need to prove themselves, DC panelists say

Now that Republicans control Congress, they have to prove they can govern effectively, three Wisconsin politicos with deep D.C. experience agreed.

The message voters sent in November was that they "want doers," not necessarily Republicans, former longtime 3rd District Rep. Steve Gunderson told a WisPolitics audience in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 14. They need to look for areas of bipartisanship, such as energy policy, education and the economy, said the Republican who now leads the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities.

Former Governor and HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson agreed, saying: "We won" on Election Day but warned fellow Republicans that voters could prefer Democrats in 2016 if they don't quickly tally accomplishments. Republicans have to show that they can get things done, he said.

Nonetheless, both Thompson and Gunderson were fairly optimistic that the 114th Congress can pass meaningful legislation. Their optimism was not shared by former House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, a northern Democrat who represented the 7th District for 42 years.

Obey recalled a conversation he had with his Republican counterpart shortly after Democrats swept Congress and the White House in 2008. In trying to craft a stimulus package, then-ranking member Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., told Obey "sorry Dave, but orders from on high; we can't play," Obey said, which made him realize "no matter what we did, they were going to kick the hell out of us."

Many Tea Party members "asserted that they didn't come here to make government work, they came here to tie it in knots," Obey said.

Gunderson, Thompson and Obey also handicapped some of the major issues facing this Congress.

Thompson was bullish on the prospects of a major overhaul of the tax code, a top priority for House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Janesville. All three listed tax reform and trade as areas where lawmakers can make headway, if not agreeing on the reasons why. Immigration seems to be a more ticklish issue. Obey said the nation's "economic establishment," which compromises Republicans and Democrats alike, will make sure Congress addresses trade and the tax code.

Possibly up for consideration are two massive trade deals being negotiated with the European Union -- known as TTIP -- and 11 other, mostly Pacific, nations -- known as TPP. Before negotiators put the finishing touches on either of those deals, Congress is likely to consider Trade Promotion Authority, also known as fast-track authority.

Gunderson predicted progress on these issues but not as massive, catch-all legislation. He said that most likely each issue would be addressed by a series of smaller, easier to pass bills.

None guaranteed passage of major change to the immigration system but said that doing so is necessary for the Republican Party's continued success.

Thompson said his party is committed to winning back the White House next year and, therefore, congressional Republicans understand that tackling the subject is necessary to achieving that goal.

Obey said that is the big question: "Can the presidential wing of the Republican Party convince the legislative wing of the Republican Party that [it would be] committing political suicide" if it ignores comprehensive immigration reform?

Thompson and Gunderson said the Wisconsin delegation is uniquely positioned to heavily influence the major debates and final bills on key issues.

With Ryan leading arguably the most powerful House committee and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, leading the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, "Wisconsin is in the catbird's seat," Thompson said.

"Ryan is in the driver's seat," Gunderson said, adding that as a moderate, Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, is positioned to be a key swing player.

As for the rest of the delegation, Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Weston, just assumed a subcommittee chairmanship on the powerful House Financial Services Committee, giving him new visibility, Gunderson said. And given their committee assignments, Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, and Reid Ribble, R-Appleton, can be influential voices on education and transportation and infrastructure issues, respectively, he added.

Listen to audio from the event

-- By Nicole Duran. Duran is deputy managing editor for news for Foreign Policy magazine and has been a reporter for Congressional Quarterly, Roll Call and the congressional editor of National Journal.

Sign up to get Duran's DC Wrap column in your inbox each week.


 10:19 AM 

Congressional delegation reaction to SOTU largely breaks along party lines

Wisconsin's congressional delegation predictably split along party lines in their reaction to President Obama's State of the Union address.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, said he wants to take Obama up on his invitation to work with Congress and praised his comments on trade. But he said they have to focus on finding common ground, "not issues that only divide us." Ryan called Obama's tax proposals "misguided."

"A $320 billion tax hike is the last thing we need," said the new chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. "What we really need is to make our tax code simpler, flatter, and fairer, so we can create more jobs."

U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, accused Obama of "laying the groundwork for a Do-Nothing White House."

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, praised the speech and said Congress needs to work on "continued progress instead of partisan politics."

"We need to have both parties focused on creating stronger economic growth and shared prosperity because our greatest challenge is making sure a growing economy is working for everyone, not just those at the top," Baldwin said. "That is why I support the President for offering plans to make the wealthy pay their share of taxes so we can cut taxes for the middle class and make higher education more affordable."

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, largely praised the president. But he expressed opposition to Obama's push for expansion of "flawed" trade policies.

Gov. Scott Walker, gearing up for a likely presidential bid, said Obama's "top-down, government-knows-best philosophy" is holding America back.

"While Washington stands at an impasse, Americans are increasingly turning to state leaders for ​answers because we are pushing big, bold reforms," Walker said. "​​​Our American revival ​is not going to be led ​by a lame duck president who would rather pick fights with Congress. It will be led ​by reformers​​ who know how to get things done."


Sunday, January 18, 2015

 11:38 AM 

Johnson: No time to release detainees at Guantanamo

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson argued today the U.S. should not be releasing prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, saying those still held there are the "worst of the worst" and will likely return to the fight.

The Defense Department announced Wednesday that five Yemeni terror suspects had been released from the prison.
"This is no time to be transferring these individuals who are all high risk now," Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said on "Fox News Sunday."

Johnson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, also criticized the president on the show for not showing the leadership needed to address threats from the Islamic State in Syria. Johnson said he shares the president's goal of defeating ISIS, but Obama needs to demonstrate how he plans to accomplish that goal.

“We need to define what he means by defeat. He needs to define a strategy for actually accomplishing that goal, and then he needs to come to Congress to ask for the authority to employ that strategy and accomplish that goal," Johnson said.


Monday, December 29, 2014

 10:00 AM 

International role appears next for Petri

WASHINGTON, DC -- When the House of Representatives returns Jan. 6 without Rep. Tom Petri for the first time in 35 years, many might expect the veteran lawmaker to have, like so many before him, beaten a hasty path to K Street to transform his years of public service into rainmaker status at some posh lobbying firm. More likely, however, the 74-year-old Fond du Lac Republican will be doing something more in line with his Peace Corps volunteer roots.

In October he was part of a delegation dispatched by the International Republican Institute to observe Tunisia's first democratic elections, a trip reminiscent of his early years in Africa. Petri went to Kenya during college to help build community buildings through Operation Crossroads Africa. After law school the Peace Corps dispatched him to Somalia. During that time he also visited Lagos, Nigeria, Khartoum, Sudan, Uganda and Ethiopia, where he met the emperor.

Emperor Haile Selassie had lions roaming the palace as they were the symbol of the monarchy, Petri recalled. Seeing the chain around the lion's neck, a young Petri decided he would try and make the lion "roar" at him. Only after taunting the king of the jungle did he notice that the chain was not tethered to anything and that the lion was roaming freely. A groundskeeper informed him that the lions had just been fed and offered to introduce Petri to another lion with which he could get his picture taken. It was a cub.

When the chartered flight for him and other students stopped in Khartoum to refuel, they let the passengers disembark, Petri recounted. He wanted to see the city view from the observation deck, so he wandered off only to see his own flight take off. Realizing Petri missed the flight; it turned around and came back for him.

"I wasn't in the best graces for a while," Petri chuckled during a recent interview. "Those were my early adventures."

Those adventures and experiences shaped Petri's worldview and his legislative tenor.

Read more about Petri's international experience in Nicole Duran's latest DC Wrap column


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