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Thursday, July 23, 2015

 8:12 AM 

Baldwin, Johnson each propose bills in response to Tennessee shooting

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin have unveiled separate legislation in response to the shooting at a Tennessee military recruiting office.

Johnson's bill, dubbed the "Armed Forces Self-Defense Act" would end restrictions on members of the armed forces carrying certain firearms on military installations.

Johnson noted other members have proposals of their own to address the issue, and he plans to work with them on a final bill.

"These are heroes," Johnson said. "We entrust them to defend us. They shouldn't be left vulnerable when it comes to defending themselves and their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines."

Johnson's bill would:

*let military personnel carry privately owned firearms on military installations, including reserve centers and recruitment offices;
*make it Department of Defense policy to let trained personnel carry personal firearms while on military installations in the U.S.;
*and repeal any regulations or orders that restrict or prohibit military personnel from carrying personal firearms on installations.

Baldwin's bill would post military police or other armed personnel at recruiting and reserve facilities for security.

Dubbed the "Military Facilities Force Protection Act," it also would:

*let the secretary of Defense contract with state and local law enforcement or state National Guards for armed protection if military personnel are not available;
*provide specialized training for those stationed at the facilities for protection that would cover civilian law enforcement rules and procedures; state and local gun laws; and gun safety measures;
*and provide security enhancements at military facilities, including bullet-proof glass and improved video surveillance.

"We need to make certain that the brave men and women of our all-volunteer force who work in their communities are adequately protected here at home," Baldwin said. "This legislation will put in place qualified, armed force protection to strengthen the safety and security at our military facilities."


Thursday, July 9, 2015

 2:46 PM 

Column: Cheesehead factor important for Obama legislative agenda

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

President Obama's visit last week to La Crosse was very much a "thank you" to the 3rd District Democrat who helped him secure fast-track authority for trade deals. But his trip to the Dairy State also highlighted how dependent Obama is on cheeseheads beyond western Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind to advance his final legislative priorities.

"We're kind of right in the center of his legislative agenda," Kind said about himself and his nine colleagues. "As a delegation, we're strategically placed. And we try to work together. We should be working more in that fashion in Congress -- working together to try and get things done," Kind said.

The alignment of the delegation's and Obama's priorities is more than just good committee assignments, mused Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls.

"We in Wisconsin are interested in results and think outside of the box to try and get them," he said, jokingly adding: "There must be something in the milk around here."

When the USA Patriot Act briefly expired last month, the White House pushed Sensenbrenner's USA Freedom Act, which ended bulk collection of Americans' phone records but extended other authorities to help the intelligence community thwart terrorists.

And Obama last week hinted that he'd turn to Sensenbrenner again soon.

"I am really interested in the possibilities--the prospect of bipartisan legislation around the criminal justice system," Obama stated last week. "And we've seen some really interesting leadership from some unlikely Republican legislators, very sincerely concerned about making progress there," he said, most likely referring to Sensenbrenner and his recently introduced Safe, Accountable, Fair and Effective, or SAFE, Justice Act.

"I welcome the president's support," Sensenbrenner responded, adding the administration "must have liked" the legislation that came out of the House Judiciary Committee-sanctioned task force led by him and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va..

The SAFE Justice Act would overhaul the federal sentencing and corrections system to combat recidivism, maintain lengthy sentences only for violent and career criminals and seek alternatives to jail for nonviolent offenders.

The package has attracted a lot of support from the left and right, Sensenbrenner said. "When you get the ACLU and Koch brothers on the same page, you know you have something," he said. "One thing that you need to get anything done in Washington is to make it bipartisan and bicameral," the veteran lawmaker said in explaining his approach.

And of course Obama could not advanced his trade agenda without House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, whom he will also need to keep the Highway Trust Fund from again going bankrupt at month's end.

"I'm glad the president is finally working more closely with the Wisconsin delegation," Ryan said in a statement. "It goes to show just how much we can get done when we focus on finding common ground."

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


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


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