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Thursday, April 24, 2014

 9:56 AM 

Baldwin asks White House to address China currency manipulation

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is urging the Obama administration to go after China for currency manipulation.

The Madison Dem sent a letter to the president arguing the U.S. Department of Treasury once again failed to cite China in an annual report Congress uses to determine if others are manipulating their currencies "despite consistent and overwhelming evidence" it was doing so.

"China's currency manipulation gives its businesses an advantage at the expense of American companies," Baldwin wrote. "It is time that we hold China accountable and level the playing field so American businesses and workers have a chance to succeed."

 8:22 AM 

Baldwin: Americans need to 'take stock' of Obamacare successes

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin on Wednesday refuted criticism that the Affordable Care Act hurts the federal budget, saying Americans "need to absolutely take stock" of the act's success, especially in expanding coverage and bringing needed insurance reform.

Baldwin, who sits on the Senate Budget Committee, said the nation's deficit and budget concerns are constantly discussed. But she said last year's government shutdown "was such a disaster" that members are more cautious.

"Some of the decisions that would be implicit in a grand bargain or say, passing (GOP Congressman) Paul Ryan's budget would have such a chilling effect on our economy that it would be devastating," Baldwin, D-Madison, said at Marquette University Law School's "On the Issues" series.

Afterward, Baldwin also took issue with Paul's comments on immigration.

Paul said on a Milwaukee talk radio show he thinks Congress could agree on immigration reform, but if President Obama acts unilaterally through executive order it would "destroy" those chances.

Baldwin, who earlier noted that Obama took executive action on immigration by enacting the DREAM Act, told reporters there are "some isolated things the president can do."

"Ultimately, it's on the shoulders of the Congress and at this point, on the shoulders of the House of Representatives, to get the job done, as the Senate did pass, on a broadly bipartisan basis last, a comprehensive immigration reform bill," she said.

Baldwin told the audience she sees an impasse, however, on immigration reform among Republicans.

"Some say this is a must for the Republican Party to be relevant in national elections moving forward," she said. But in contrast, she said, Tea Party-influenced members are saying, "It makes no difference in my political future or perhaps, even advancing it might be harmful."

-- By Kay Nolan
For WisPolitics.com

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

 6:15 PM 

Rand Paul: School vouchers integral to future of education

Declaring no one in Washington, D.C., "knows a damn thing about education," GOP U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said he sees Wisconsin's voucher program and those like it as an integral part of the future.

Paul, R-Ky., told a school choice roundtable hosted by Hispanics for School Choice and the LIBRE Initiative at St. Anthony's school in Milwaukee that various online education efforts demonstrate how technology could help the best teachers reach a wider audience.

He said changes in classroom format and function aren't a threat to the role of traditional teachers.

"We need to convince teachers that we're on their side; it's not a Republican and Democrat thing," Paul said. "Teachers will be allowed to develop new types of teaching, and the ones that are successful, we'll expand upon that. ... It's more power to teachers, not less."

The possible 2016 presidential contender criticized federal oversight of education, saying each school district and state has differing needs.

"Another word for school choice is innovation ... you don't want rigidity from Washington telling you that you can't flip the class and maybe watch a video at home and then come to class for help with your homework," Paul said. "That won't happen if the controls are so rigid that they don't allow innovation."

St. Anthony's President Zeus Rodriguez said flexibility helped his private Catholic school meet the needs of students as enrollment grew over the last decade.

"It's not so much about what other people are doing; we need that flexibility to succeed with the children," Rodriguez said.

Paul expressed support for the use of public money for private and religious schools, drawing a comparison between the G.I. Bill, which can be applied toward tuition at accredited faith-based institutions, and vouchers for use at schools like St. Anthony's.

"My point is: it's not the public's money," Paul said. "I let you have some of it through taxes, but it's my money."

Calling problems with crime and violence in the nation a "crisis of faith," Paul said he would like to give parents the option of having religion play a role in education. He said government should strive to provide education that "works for everyone."

"We're talking about something fundamentally American, and that's choice," Paul said. "Nobody in Washington knows a damn thing about education."

- By Samantha Nash
For WisPolitics.com

 8:08 AM 

Johnson encouraged by GOP colleagues' support of OPM lawsuit

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is encouraged by the support of some GOP colleagues in his challenge of the Obama administration over the Affordable Care Act, adding the supporters are brave to join him in a suit that "is not popular inside the Beltway."

A dozen senators and 26 House members have filed a brief in support of the lawsuit.

"I'm so pleased that 38 of my colleagues understand what is really at stake here," Johnson said.

The Oshkosh Republican and staffer Brooke Ericson are suing the Office of Personnel Management for its ruling that allows the federal government to subsidize health insurance for lawmakers and some congressional staffers on a tax-preferred basis -- something private employers cannot do.

The issue was debated during passage of the bill and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, offered an amendment that would have allowed tax-preferred, employer contributions. But Democrats turned it down, Johnson said.

Then the administration, via OPM, gave Congress a "backroom" benefit with the ruling.

"It's a very poorly written law," Johnson said. "But if you don't like it, change the law. People don't have the political courage to change the law; they're just looking for a backroom deal."

The OPM ruling "fixed" the problem without people having to "incur the political pain to do this the right way," he said.

"Staffers hate the idea of my lawsuit succeeding" because ultimately they would have to pay more for their health insurance, Johnson said.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

 9:35 AM 

Johnson: Staffer health care subsidies drive 'wedge' between senator and constituents

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson argues in a new court filing that health insurance subsidies for congressional staffers under Obamacare "drives a wedge between him and his constituents," causing him harm.

The Oshkosh Republican sued the Office of Personnel Management, alleges the agency's determination that staffers could continue to receive subsidies for insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act's exchanges violates the health care law.

The Obama administration has countered Johnson lacks standing to bring the suit, among other things. Johnson's filing sees to bolster his argument that he has standing to challenge the provision. That includes his argument that the decision gives Johnson "favored status" that harms his reputation with constituents and hurts him electorally.

"Obtaining 'more' for themselves and staff than they are entitled to and being denied a status and relationship with the public to which they are entitled is harm," the filing argued.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

 5:24 PM 

Wis. delegations questions DVA transition

Wisconsin's House delegation is questioning plans by federal officials to address a backlog in veterans claims.

In a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Erik Shinseki, the lawmakers express concern that Wisconsin veterans could be adversely affected by DVA's transition to a "National Work Queue," in which Milwaukee's DVA office would be forced to take on claims from out-of-state offices with less successful track records.

They note that claims classified as backlogged -- delayed more than 125 days -- nearly doubled between May and September of 2013 as the Milwaukee office took on additional cases.

"Our Wisconsin Veterans are lucky to have a devoted team of VA employees that work hard to keep up with the demand of casework," the lawmakers write. "However, we are concerned about the priority out Veterans will receive as the NWQ is implemented."

DVA officials said earlier this month that the claims backlog dropped by 44 percent in March compared to March of 2013.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

 2:53 PM 

Duffy calls for end to estate tax

U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy today asked House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp to consider eliminating the estate tax as part of a comprehensive tax reform package.

In a letter co-signed by 59 of his House colleagues, Duffy, R-Weston, said the "death tax" places a "significant burden on small businesses and farms," and that while he appreciated Camp's proposal to keep the tax at a permanently set rate, "we would encourage you to consider repealing this tax altogether."

"The tax punishes the hard work and savings of parents wishing to leave behind a better life for their children and it seriously affects family farms and family-owned businesses," the lawmakers wrote to Camp, R-Mich. "This tax only accounts for around 1% of federal revenue and we believe it’s an unnecessary tax on America's job creators."

Fellow Wisconsin U.S. Reps. Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac, and Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, were among those signing onto the letter.

Friday, April 11, 2014

 8:42 AM 

Johnson offers bill to combat identity theft

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has introduced legislation that would permit the IRS to alert taxpayers if the agency uncovers identity theft.

Although the IRS opens investigations when separate tax returns are filed using the same Social Security number, Johnson said, the agency's privacy rules currently do not allow it to notify affected taxpayers.

The Social Security Identity Defense Act of 2014 -- offered with U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. -- would also allow the IRS to share findings with law enforcement and establish additional privacy safeguards.

"It seems so simple that the federal government would tell a taxpayer when it learns she or he is the victim of a crime," said Johnson, R-Oshkosh. "The rules keeping the IRS from giving that warning were not helping anyone. I’m pleased to be able to clear that obstacle."

Thursday, April 10, 2014

 1:54 PM 

Wis. delegation splits along party lines on Ryan budget

Wisconsin's House delegation today split along party lines as lawmakers passed the budget authored by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan.

All five Wisconsin Republicans supported the Ryan budget, while the state's three Dems were opposed. The bill passed 219-205, with 12 Republicans joining Dems in voting against the measure.

Ryan, R-Janesville, said in remarks prior to the vote that his proposal would empower the public rather than the government, slamming Dem alternatives as "paternalistic, arrogant and downright condescending."

"Who knows better? The people or Washington?" Ryan asked. "We have made our choice with this budget. I trust the American people to make theirs."

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, countered that the GOP's 2015 budget protects "special interests in lieu of middle class working Americans and our vulnerable populations."

"There were clear winners and losers today. Unfortunately, the winners were large corporations and the wealthy," Moore said. "The losers included everyone else."

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