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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

 12:22 PM 

Column: Delegation members play key roles as deadlines loom ahead of Memorial Day recess

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

Congress faces two major deadlines, with a third lurking around the corner and a fourth, artificial one put into place.

And at the center of the action are Wisconsin delegation members.

Congress has until month's end to reauthorize -- or let expire -- some of the most controversial domestic surveillance provisions of the USA Patriot Act, which was enacted in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It has the same scant four legislative days to extend federal highway and transit funding. It has until June 30, which seems like months away in the current congressional time warp, to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank or force the more than 80-year-old credit finance institution to shutter

But before that, the Senate now apparently only has until the Memorial Day recess to decide whether to give President Barack Obama so-called "fast-track" authority on trade deals.

Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned colleagues on Monday that they would have to deal with all but the Ex-Im Bank this week or give up their pending recess, which is scheduled to begin Friday.

"Senators should know that I'm quite serious," McConnell said. "I would advise against making any sort of travel arrangements until the path forward becomes clear." Later he clarified that he meant all three priorities had to be cleared before he would let the Senate adjourn.

Further complicating matters is that House and Senate GOP leaders aren't on the same legislative page. Last week the House overwhelmingly approved Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner's tweaks to the domestic surveillance programs that would curtail the National Security Agency's authority to collect telephone "metadata" from Americans' phone records in bulk. But the Senate refused to take up the measure authored by the Menomonee Falls Republican.

McConnell doesn't just want the Senate to consider the USA Freedom Act; he wants lawmakers to approve an outright extension of the surveillance programs, including roving wiretaps, the so-called "lone-wolf" provision and the phone records' dragnet. See more below on U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson's tentative support for the Sensenbrenner measure.

On the trade front, McConnell wants Congress to approve Trade Promotion Authority, or "fast-track" authority, which allows a president to present a trade deal to Congress for simple up-or-down approval with no opportunity for amendment. A majority of Democrats--with Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, being a notable exception-- oppose doing so. And bipartisan filibuster threats against the legislation abound in the Senate, which last week blocked the bill from coming to the floor.

However, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, TPA's House champion, swears he can find the House votes to pass it if the Senate can.

"We will have the votes," Ryan said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "We're doing very well. We're gaining a lot of steam and momentum."

One proposed amendment to TPA in the Senate would reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank, which would further jeopardize the underlying bill's chances, especially in the House. There are major divisions within the GOP over allowing the bank to continue operating. Congress used to routinely extend the bank's authority but now many conservative Republicans rail against the government credit agency, saying it picks corporate winners and losers.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, is the bank's most powerful opponent. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Weston, a subcommittee chairman, last year was noncommittal about the bank's fate but now backs his chairman and opposes reauthorizing it, according to his office. The only other Wisconsinite on the panel, Milwaukee's Gwen Moore, has sponsored legislation to keep the bank open.

"The moment we let it expire, is the moment we lose thousands of American jobs," said Moore spokesman Eric Harris. "That's a big problem. Democrats are aligned on this."

Less controversial, but nonetheless somewhat problematic for McConnell, is the matter of highway funding. McConnell has proposed only extending contracting authority for another two months. Democrats howl in opposition, but are likely to ultimately go along with it. The House is expected to easily pass its own version of a two-month extension this week.

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


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

 10:26 AM 

Grothman holding fundraiser with Dem lobbyist after criticizing primary opponent for doing the same

U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, who harshly criticized then-primary opponent Joe Leibham for holding a fundraiser with former Dem lawmaker Bill Broydrick, is doing one with the lobbyist and his wife in DC today.

An invite obtained by WisPolitics.com shows the power lobbying couple are holding a dinner to support Grothman, R-Campbellsport.

Grothman said there was no hypocrisy in doing a fundraiser with Broydrick after criticizing Leibham for doing the same. He said that while it was an issue in the GOP primary, he is now representing the entire 6th CD.

"Now that I'm a congressman, I think it's important for Wisconsin businesses to see me get re-elected, and Bill and Cindi represent a lot of Wisconsin businesses," Grothman said.

Bill Broydrick declined comment when contacted by WisPolitics.com.

The July 2014 fundraiser Bill Broydrick hosted with Tommy Thompson and some of the former guv's aides for Leibham became an issue in the three-way primary for the 6th CD. Duey Stroebel ran a TV ad that slammed Leibham for "taking money from the same insiders who are funding Mary Burke's campaign against Scott Walker." Grothman likewise criticized Leibham over the event.

Grothman said today he has instructed his fundraiser not to set up events involving those representing the payday loan industry, rent-to-own, cigarette companies, Goldman Sachs or Native American gaming.

"Those are my restrictions," he said. "I've known Bill and Cindi a long time, and they represent a lot of Wisconsin businesses."


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

 4:37 PM 

Column: Showdown over domestic surveillance looms

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 House plans a vote this week on Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner's USA Freedom Act, only days after a key federal appeals court ruling.

Sensenbrenner's bill would alter and reauthorize some of the most controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act. Just last week a federal appeals court ruled the intelligence community's domestic phone records database is illegal.

Revelations in mid-2013 by Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency was collecting telephone "metadata" from Americans' phone records in bulk prompted calls to reign in the spy agency's surveillance powers. The NSA and other intelligence agencies relied on a broad interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act for their power to sift through the timestamp information of Americans' phone calls.

Last week the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals struck down the program.

"Congress never intended Section 215 to allow bulk collection," Patriot Act author Sensenbrenner stated in response. "This program is illegal and based on a blatant misinterpretation of the law."

The Menomonee Falls Republican and his Senate partner, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., set about rewriting that controversial section, among others, shortly after the Snowden revelations. Their ultimate product, the USA Freedom Act, eventually won the support of the Obama administration, the intelligence community, the technology sector and privacy advocates. Approved by the House, the bill nearly became law last year but fell two votes shy of breaking a Senate filibuster in the waning days of the 113th Congress.

Now facing a June 1 deadline--when Section 215, roving wiretaps and the so-called "lone-wolf" provision sunset--and the appeals court call for Congress to weigh in, the House is set to again take the lead and pass the Sensenbrenner-Leahy legislation.

The Republican congressional leadership is divided, however, on how to proceed. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky wants to push through a short-term extension of the expiring provisions, which has drawn filibuster threats from the likes of Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a USA Freedom Act backer.

"The USA Freedom Act protects civil liberties and bolsters national security," Sensenbrenner said about his bill. "It has been carefully negotiated to strike a delicate balance, and I expect it to again pass the House with overwhelming bipartisan support. I implore my colleagues in the Senate to follow our lead, pass this important legislation and send it to the president.

"Letting Section 215 and other surveillance authorities sunset would hamper the ability of the intelligence community to protect our national security. And a clean reauthorization would be irresponsible, allowing the blatant misinterpretation of the law to continue. The USA Freedom Act is the only responsible path forward."

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, voted against taking up the USA Freedom Act last year. Now chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, he has been noncommittal about whether he supports this year's version of the bill and brief about what kind of rewrite or overhaul he would like to see.

Effective intelligence gathering with congressional oversight is the "first line of defense," Johnson said in an interview with WisPolitics before the appeals court ruling.

"They're patriots," he said about intelligence agency workers. "They're not looking to read random Americans' emails for prurient interest."

Since the court ruling, Johnson has tipped his hand a bit more.

"It's important to note that the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals did not rule it unconstitutional," he stated on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday. "They just said it was not being applied properly based on the law that was written. So we need to take a very careful look at the way we write these, quite honestly, very complex laws."

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


Friday, May 1, 2015

 5:38 PM 

Column: Kastenmeier hailed as a legislative giant

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

"Bob deserves this moment," former U.S. Rep. David Obey said of the late Bob Kastenmeier during a memorial for the former long-time Democratic congressman who represented the Madison area for 32 years. "His demeanor was restrained, but his determination was dogged," Obey eulogized as he noted that his friend probably wouldn't have wanted all the attention.

Obey was among the many current or former members of Congress to speak at or attend Wednesday's hour-long service in the Rayburn House Office Building. Former staffers, colleagues, friends and current Hill workers packed the Judiciary Committee room where Kastenmeier, as a committee member and subcommittee chairman, spent hours hearing testimony from philosophical foes as well as friends.

GOP Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who years after Kastenmeier's 1990 defeat at the polls by Scott Klug rose to Judiciary Committee chairman and remains a subcommittee chairman, secured the room for the service. Among those paying their respects were current and former delegation members, including Obey,Tammy Baldwin, Mark Pocan, Gwen Moore, Ron Kind, Tom Petri and Bob Kasten.

Speaker after speaker told of his purity of heart and his resolve. Many listed his opposition to the Vietnam War and his historic "teach-ins" as reasons they admired the quiet lawmaker who hailed from Beaver Dam. In discussing his fairness, many cited how he forced the Judiciary Committee to vote on the impeachment charges against President Nixon individually rather than en masse.

"Bob could be a fighter ... but he could work effectively across the aisle," said former Rep. Matt McHugh, D-N.Y. "He was very humble, which is rare for our profession,'' McHugh added to laughs from the audience.

A WWII veteran and Vietnam War opponent, Kastenmeier had no use for the House Un-American Activities Committee and worked to "put it out of business," Obey said to applause.

Two of Kastenmeier's successors, the current 2nd District representative, Pocan, and Baldwin, who held the seat before becoming senator, talked about how Kastenmeier's service inspired them to seek office themselves.

Pocan, then a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said Kastenmeier's re-election race was the first federal campaign he volunteered for. "He made you really want to work for him," Pocan said..

"He was a great leader," Baldwin said.

Others discussed his groundbreaking work in the areas of copyright and patents, both of which fell under his subcommittee.

"Copyright and intellectual property is basically not ideological," Kastenmeier once told an interviewer. "If you think the law has to be changed, updated, that doesn't really have anything to do with being conservative or liberal."

Kastenmeier wrote the bill that in 1976 updated copyright law for the first time in almost 70 years. In the area of copyright and patents, he wrote 48 laws, many of which dealt with technological advances. The 1976 law established copyright guidelines for radio, television, photocopying, tape recording and computer storage. Later legislation of his dealt with copyright protection for software and semiconductor chips.

His subcommittee also oversaw the federal judiciary, which he reorganized or revamped several times. In that capacity, he also wrote legislation that extended wiretap protection to cellphones for the first time and established the FISA court, much to many other liberals' chagrin.

His Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 outlines how the government can physically and electronically survey foreign powers and agents. It has its own court, which hears, in secret, evidence from U.S. intelligence agencies and grants wiretaps and surveillance of suspected terrorists, both abroad and domestically.

"Many laws should be called the Kastenmeier Act, but he never sought fame or credit," said Bruce Lehman, a long-time committee aide to Kastenmeier. "He just wanted to make America and the world better."

Kastenmeier died March 20 of heart failure. He was 91.

See Pocan's Congressional Record entry on Kastenmeier

See a congressional report on his legislative accomplishments

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


Saturday, April 25, 2015

 2:02 PM 

Ryan promotes trade legislation in weekly GOP address

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, delivering today's GOP address, argued legislation to give the president more authority to negotiate trade deals with other countries is an opportunity to restore American leadership in the world.

"We're the only country that can do this. We're the only country that can stand up for free enterprise and the rule of law. This is our moment," Ryan said. "It's our chance to lead, to restore American leadership in the world."

The legislation, known as trade promotion authority, cleared Ryan's Ways and Means Committee this week and was sent to the full house. It would allow the president to negotiate trade deals on behalf of Congress, which would then vote whether to accept the agreement. No amendments would be allowed.

Ryan argued the bill puts Congress "in the driver's seat" because lawmakers could reject an agreement.

"We have to make more things in America and sell them overseas, so we can create more jobs here at home," Ryan said, noting 96 percent of the world's consumers live outside the U.S. "And when we do, America's workers will benefit."

See a transcript of Ryan's remarks and listen to the address here.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

 2:12 PM 

Baldwin, Johnson vote to confirm Lynch as AG

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson both voted today to confirm Loretta Lynch as attorney general.

Her nomination, which had been held up in a fight over a human trafficking bill and the president’s executive actions on immigration, cleared the body 56-43. 

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, cited Lynch’s law enforcement credentials and deference to the president in selecting his cabinet for his support. He was one of 10 Senate Republicans to back the nomination.

“Although I share the concerns many of my colleagues have expressed over portions of her testimony during confirmation hearings, elections matter and the president has the right to select members of his cabinet,” Johnson said.

Baldwin, D-Madison, slammed Republicans for delaying the confirmation vote and “playing politics,” saying she waited for a vote longer than the last seven AGs combined. The president nominated her for the post in November.

She becomes the first African-American woman to hold the post.

“Today, I was proud to take a historic vote to confirm Loretta Lynch’s nomination and I believe that Wisconsin and the nation will be well served by her experience, qualifications and continued public service,” Baldwin said.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

 2:11 PM 

Column: 'Doc fix' could be business boon for Wisconsin

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

As President Obama and congressional leaders met at the White House Tuesday evening to celebrate enactment of the so-called "doc fix," Wisconsin lawmakers celebrated inclusion of a provision that mirrored legislation co-sponsored by the entire delegation.

Congress overwhelmingly voted for the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, which repeals a measure that automatically cut doctors Medicare payments. Lawmakers and observers alike heralded the bipartisan deal brokered by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as a sign that Republicans and Democrats can find common ground and that Congress can do more than get mired in political squabbles.

The bill incorporated legislation authored by House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, and principles outlined in a bill by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, that increases transparency in health-care costs by making Medicare payment data available to certain entities such as the Wisconsin Health Information Organization (WHIO).

"Senator Baldwin was an early and strong leader in advocating to broaden access to Medicare data to help consumers and health-care stakeholders better understand the quality and cost of care in Wisconsin," stated WHIO CEO Josephine Musser. WHIO has one of the largest claims databases in the country, "but has historically not had access to Medicare data to provide a complete picture of value of health care in Wisconsin," before now.

"Years of hard work have finally paid off," Ryan stated after the Senate passed the bill last week. "Much more needs to be done to save Medicare, but this legislation includes important structural reforms, makes the program more focused on quality care, and allows Congress to now focus on the patient-centered reform needed to preserve Medicare for future generations.''

Qualified entities such as WHIO, designated as such under the Affordable Care Act, can now use Medicare claims data to conduct analyses--and charge for those analyses--to help providers, hospitals and insurers lower costs and improve patient care.

"We've created a whole new business," said lobbyist Bill Broydrick who worked on the legislation on behalf of the Wisconsin Medical Society.

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


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