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.
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.
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."
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."
U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson split today on an "equal pay" bill in the Senate.
Republicans blocked debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which aims to provide pay equity for women, on a 53-44 vote. Baldwin voted with Democrats to proceed to a vote while Johnson voted with Republicans to block that effort. Baldwin slammed Republicans for the move.
"It's time for my Republican colleagues to put politics aside and stop ignoring pay inequity," said Baldwin, D-Madison. "In America today, millions of women are working full-time, yet far too many are barely getting by, and far too many women and children are living in poverty. That's simply wrong."
Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said he believes in the concept of "equal pay for equal work," adding 73 percent of his Senate staffers are women. However, he argued the bill before the Senate would do nothing to further that goal.
"The Paycheck Fairness Act is nothing more than a cynical political exercise that, if enacted, would severely hamper merit-based pay systems and cause workplace conflict," Johnson said. "This bill would harm our economy and result in fewer opportunities and downward pressure on wages for all Americans."
U.S. Rep. Tom Petri today introduced legislation he says would help provide an alternative to student loans.
The bill, dubbed the "Investing in Student Success Act," would allow individuals or organizations to pay college costs for students who agree to give them a share of their post-graduation income for a certain length of time.
Petri, R-Fond du Lac, partnered with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on the bill. The authors noted that such "income share agreements" are a college financing option that some already use.
But by explicitly making those agreements legal, that route would become more popular and help more students finance their college costs, they said.
“Far too many students struggle to obtain enough financing through traditional sources to pay for college, and many others are saddled with unaffordable payments after graduation,” Petri said. “These plans would help all students get the financing they need -- including students from disadvantaged backgrounds -- but without the anxiety that comes with traditional loans.”
U.S. Reps. Reid Ribble and Mark Pocan today introduced legislation to allow Congressional Budget Office to make fiscal projections decades into the future.
"A 10-year budget window is simply not capable of capturing the total benefit of federal health
research and prevention programs," said Ribble, R-Sherwood, noting that Congress' nonpartisan fiscal analysts can currently offer five- or 10-year assessments.
The bill would allow members of Congress to request analyses of 50 years or longer, and would make long-term scoring the priority within the CBO.
Pocan, D-Madison, said in a conference call that the measure would help make sure "we can get a long-range idea of what investments now really do" -- particularly in the area of health care, with the lawmakers noting that chronic conditions currently take up more than three-quarters of all health care spending.
President Obama has signed pension reform legislation co-authored by U.S. Rep. Ron Kind into law, the La Crosse Democrat announced today.
The Cooperative and Small Employer Charity Pension Flexibility Act -- co-authored with U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind. -- creates an exemption for cooperatives and charity organizations that offer pensions, which Kind said have been jeopardized by both current regulations and suppressed interest rates.
Kind said those groups are currently required to fund their pensions at the same levels as higher risk plans despite having "virtually no risk of default."
"This is a concrete step toward ensuring that these pension plans will remain intact and robustly funded, so employees can count on their hard-earned pension benefits being there when they retire," Kind said.
U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy today announced legislation he says would maintain the country's responsibility for critical Internet functions.
Duffy, R-Weston, said the bill -- dubbed the Global Internet Freedom Act -- would prohibit the Obama administration from ceding control of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority as planned next year. The IANA is responsible for allocating IP addresses, as well as other Internet resources.
"As Americans, we value our Constitutional right of Freedom of Speech and have promoted this value throughout the world," Duffy said in a statement. "We should not give up our stewardship of the internet so that the United Nations or countries like China or Russia, that do not hold free speech in the same regard, can have the opportunity to take control."
U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson split on a 59-38 vote to extend unemployment benefits.
Baldwin voted yesterday for a bill extending unemployment benefits until May, while Johnson voted against the measure. In a tweet following the vote, Baldwin hailed it as an "important step" and called on the House to pass the measure.
Johnson said he voted against the extension because the offsetting spending cuts provided by Dems were a "mismatch" since they were spread out over 10 years.
"What the federal government needs to do is to start prioritizing spending. If Harry Reid and the supporters of this bill were truly serious, they would have found lower priority spending to cut as a way to protect our children and grandchildren from the further bankrupting of America," Johnson said.
U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, voted against legislation Monday evening that delays cuts in Medicare reimbursements to physicians.
The Senate passed the bill 64-35, sending it to the president's desk for signature.
But Baldwin -- one of just six Dems to vote against the bill -- called the measure "missed opportunity" to reduce costs and overhaul the "flawed Medicare payment formula."
"Congress has made great bipartisan, bicameral progress to enact real and lasting reforms that could reduce Medicare costs and improve the quality of care for today’s seniors," Baldwin said. "But this deal is another band-aid that kicks the can down the road with a 17th patch, which guarantees that we’ll be back in the same place in one year."
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan today introduced his proposed budget for fiscal year 2015, touting the plan as an example "that it’s not too late to tackle our country’s most pressing challenges."
"This is a plan to balance the budget and create jobs, and it builds off a simple fact: We can’t keep spending money we don’t have," Ryan, R-Janesville, said in a statement.
Ryan said his latest "Path to Prosperity" proposal would cut government spending by $5.1 trillion over the next ten years, balancing the budget and beginning to pay down the nation's debt within that timeframe. The House Budget chairman also said the plan would overhaul the nation's tax code, reform the country's safety net and repeal Obamacare, "clearing the way for patient-centered health-care reform."
The White House countered that Ryan's proposal represents "the same old top-down approach," arguing it would raise taxes on middle-class families and force deep cuts to investments in infrastructure, education and research.
"Because of a stubborn unwillingness to cut the deficit in a balanced way by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and well connected, the House Republican Budget would slow the economy, stack the deck against the middle class, and threaten the guaranteed benefits seniors have paid for and earned," the White House responded in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison and Ryan's colleague on the Budget Committee, added that the proposal is "more of the same reckless and irresponsible choices -- more conservative, more austerity, more wrong-headed cuts to vital programs such as food stamps, Medicare and Medicaid, and more tax giveaways for oil companies and big corporations which outsource jobs."