• WisPolitics

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

 1:08 PM 

Kohl meets with advisory panel on Sotomayor nomination

U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl said today that the Supreme Court's reversal of a discrimination decision that Sonia Sotomayor supported as an appeals court judge won't make much of a difference in whether she is confirmed to the high court.

In its decision Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court found that white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were discriminated against when the department decided to not consider the results of a promotion exam because they would have produced too few minority candidates for promotion. Sotomayor was part of the majority at the appeals court level that ruled against the white firefighters.

"I don't think it makes much difference," Kohl said, noting that the ruling was 5-4 and if it were heard at another time it could have gone a different way depending upon who was on the court. "I would not say it's definitive in any way."

Kohl made his comments to reporters at Marquette Law School in Milwaukee following a meeting with a bi-partisan advisory panel that he created of Wisconsin legal experts and community leaders to advise him about Sotomayor's nomination. The meeting of the 11-member body was closed to the media.

Kohl said comments from the committee revealed Sotomayor is intelligent, collegial, and has a solid professional and personal background. He noted that she would be the only justice on the court who has tried a case as a lawyer.

Kohl, who is second in seniority among Dems on the Senate committee that will review her nomination, had words of praise for Sotomayor today. But he said he'd wait until after her nomination hearing to say whether he supports her appointment.

"What's come out is that this is a woman who has many qualifications to sit on the court," Kohl said. "If confirmed, there's no question about her competence and her character and her ability to see the law and understand the law. She has many things that advocate in her favor."

Kohl said committee members today voiced no "real strong questions about her suitability" and the input he received will be helpful to him in crafting questions for the nomination hearing.

"We're trying to get at the essence of who this person is," Kohl said. "One of the real problems at these hearings is that they've become so patterned and so practiced it's really difficult to find out who the real person is behind the individual who's sitting there."

 11:45 AM 

Norquist: Ryan is 'today's Jack Kemp'

Add conservative activist Grover Norquist to the list of prominent Republicans touting U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, as the spokesman of a new GOP.

In an interview with Politico.com, Norquist, while discussing a national void in fiscal conservative leadership following the Mark Sanford affair, said Ryan could help fill the gap until the nomination of a presidential candidate in 2012.

"The party spokesman on spending will be the nominee in 2012," Norquist said. "Until then, there will be leaders like Ryan, who is today's Jack Kemp."

Kemp, a former New York congressman and vice presidential nominee, passed away in May. Ryan -- who started as an aide to Kemp at the Empower America think tank -- has called Kemp his personal mentor and "the reason I ran for Congress."

Monday, June 29, 2009

 3:06 PM 

Cheney sees 'big things' from Ryan

Responding to the recent controversies surrounding Nevada Sen. John Ensign and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, former Vice President Dick Cheney told a Washington Times radio broadcast this morning that U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Janesville will be part of the resurgence of the GOP.

According to Politico.com, Cheney said he was sorry to see Ensign and Sanford in their present "difficulties," but that the Republican Party has "some great young talent out there." He mentioned Ryan, along with Ohio U.S. Senate candidate Rob Portman and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, as young Republicans who could lead the party back to prominance. Portman is a former Congressman and Bush administration official, while Huntsman has been appointed to serve as President Obama's ambassador to China.

"We've got some very talented folks coming along," Cheney said. "And I think that it's just a matter of time before the party begins to sort of firm up around a few key individuals, and we'll hear big things from them in the future."

 11:15 AM 

Wis. delegation splits on energy bill

Members of the Wisconsin House delegation split along party lines Friday in the vote on an expansive energy and climate change bill, which passed on a 219-212 vote.

Dem U.S. Reps. Tammy Baldwin of Madison, Steve Kagen of Appleton, Ron Kind of La Crosse, Gwen Moore of Milwaukee and Dave Obey of Wausau endorsed the bill. GOP Congressmen Tom Petri of Fond du Lac, Paul Ryan of Janesville, and Jim Sensenbrenner of Menomonee Falls each voted against the proposal.

See reaction to the vote:
- U.S. Rep. Baldwin: Landmark clean energy bill bears Baldwin's stamp
- U.S. Rep. Kagen: Votes to create jobs and support Wisconsin industry
- U.S. Rep. Kind: Invests in America's clean energy future
- U.S. Rep. Moore: Comments on the American Clean Energy and Security Act
- U.S. Rep. Obey: Statement on House passage of energy bill
- U.S. Rep. Petri: Votes no on cap-and-trade bill
- U.S. Rep. Ryan: House passes punitive cap-and-tax bill

Friday, June 26, 2009

 2:35 PM 

Delegation disappointed over GM decision

The four lawmakers representing the Janesville area in Washington -- U.S. Sens. Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl along with U.S. Reps. Tammy Baldwin and Paul Ryan -- expressed their disappointment this morning that General Motors elected to build a new subcompact car in Michigan rather than the idled southern Wisconsin GM plant.

The lawmakers said in a joint statement that they were proud of the effort put in by the state, city and county. Janesville was one of three sites considered as finalists for the new vehicle line.

"The Janesville, Beloit, and Kenosha communities are facing a lot of challenges because of the downturn in the auto industry and we will continue to work to help these cities as they seek to access the federal resources that are available to auto communities to respond to these challenges," the statement said.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

 11:05 AM 

Kind to serve as co-chair of think tank

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind will join five other members of the House as a co-chair of non-partisan think tank Third Way, his office announced Wednesday.

Although Kind, D-La Crosse, touts his new capacity to help craft the group's "moderate policy message," all six current House co-chairs and five Senate co-chairs are Democrats.

"Their straightforward approach to current health care reform issues as well detailed research on climate change legislation has been particularly helpful and impressive in my role on the Ways and Means Committee," Kind said of the group in a statement. "I look forward working with Third Way, helping develop pragmatic and commonsense policy and guiding this organization's focus on issues most important to Americans today."

"No one in Congress better exemplifies our approach to the issues," said Third Way President Jonathan Cowan. "He is a leader in the caucus and with the New Democrat Coalition, and his creativity and effectiveness will be a perfect fit for Third Way. We are honored to have him."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

 11:07 AM 

Panel to advise Kohl on Sotomayor nomination

U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Milwaukee and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has named an 11-member task force of Wisconsin experts to examine the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kohl said in a statement that he will seek input from the panel leading up to Sotomayor's confirmation hearings. Kohl has consulted a similar task force in each of his six previous considerations of Supreme Court nominees on the Judiciary committee.

"The bipartisan taskforce is made up of experts in the legal profession throughout Wisconsin and has helped me make informed decisions in the past," Kohl said. "Their expertise and insight is helpful as I examine Judge Sotomayor's judicial record and determine the issues to discuss during her confirmation hearings next month."

See the members of the task force here.

 10:56 AM 

Ryan blasts House Dems' health care plan

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, appeared on CNBC's Squawkbox this morning, touting his private health care reform alternative.

Ryan called the Democratic public plan "like my 7 year-old daughter's lemonade stand competing with McDonald's. ... $1.2 trillion of new spending is not the answer," and slammed Dem arguments against the GOP's private insurance options as "strong handed ... intellectually lazy."

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, appearing earlier on the show, touted the Democratic plan and dismissed Ryan's alternative. "Paul is part of party leadership. We actually have Republicans who want to work with us," Pallone said.

See a statement from Ryan on the Dem proposal here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

 10:25 AM 

Executives take in "Wisconsin in Washington"

-- Nearly four dozen executives from Wisconsin companies will be in Washington today and Wednesday, meeting with legislators, their staffs and key agencies in an effort to drum up business and create jobs.

"Last year we had 25-30 firms participate, but this year the number is closer to 40" current and would-be contractors, said Aina Vilumsons, executive director of the Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Procurement Institute.

Her group is co-hosting the "Wisconsin in Washington" event with the biotech advocacy group BioForward.

"There is definitely more interest in going after federal dollars this year," noted Vilumsons, who said her group has helped Badger State companies win several billion dollars in contracts over the past five years.

That effort, she said, has meant 6,000 jobs for state residents.

Vilumsons said Wisconsin companies sell more than $4 billion in goods and services to federal agencies annually.

Read more at WisBusiness.com.

Monday, June 22, 2009

 4:39 PM 

Wis. congressional delegation release financial holdings

U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Middleton, this month released his financial disclosure documentation for 2008, and as is his custom publicized more details than is required by law.

Among Feingold's notable disclosures was $200 worth of securities owned in the Green Bay Packers National Football League franchise and $54,835 in the Calvert Fund mutual fund. Feingold also reported a life insurance policy worth $250,000 with family members as the beneficiaries.

Feingold reported a total of $208,470 in pension funds, including nearly $21,000 in his U.S. Senate pension; almost $58,000 in the Wisconsin State Pension and around $130,000 in a U.S. Senate Thrift Savings account.

-- U.S. Reps. Dave Obey, D-Wausau, and Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, both reported modest financial holdings on their 2008 financial disclosures.

Obey, the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, reported assets of between $50,000 and $100,000 in a federal Congressional credit union account -- and $15,000 and $50,000 in a Fidelity Investments mutual fund account. But otherwise, his reported assets were in increments of the $1,000 to $15,000 range, including three Vanguard retirement accounts.

Moore reported two investment accounts -- one with Fidelity, the other with Vanguard -- that were both in the $1,000 to $15,000 range. Moore also reported a Vanguard money market account worth $1,000 to $15,000.

-- The financial disclosure issue by U.S. Rep. Ron Petri, R-Fond du Lac, was a bit more involved. The Congressman reported several stock holdings and at least one retirement fund worth $250,000 to $500,000.

Petri's notable stock holdings include U.S. Bank stock worth $1 million to $5 million, including dividend income from that stock in the range of $100,000 to $1 million. Petri’s other stock holdings include $100,000 to $500,000 in Berkshire Hathaway (owned by famed financier Warren Buffet) and $1 million to $5 million in Lloyds of London.

Petri reported income from his Lloyds of London stock in the $1 million to $5 million range that was earned via dividends, interest and capital gains.

Petri also reported assets worth $50,000 and $500,000 in U.S. Treasury bonds.

-- Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl lists more than $50 million in assets, not including his stock in the NBA team.

Kohl reported assets of more than $50 million in blind trust, with income earned from that trust last year of more than $5 million. Kohl also reported stock in the Milwaukee Bucks NBA franchise of more than $50 million, reporting gross receipts before expenses for that operation of $81.8 million.

Additionally, Kohl reported assets of between $5 million and $25 million in a Wyoming-based horse breeding business, with income from horse sales of $16,400.

Kohl also reported a 50 percent stake in the Milwaukee-based HAKO Corp. worth between $15,000 and $50,000, with gross receipts of $3,199 earned; as well as a 50 percent stake in a commercial building in Elm Grove worth between $500,000 and $1 million, with an income of between $15,000 and $50,000.

-- U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, disclosed total assets worth $8.9 million, including real estate assets worth $2.7 million and stocks investments held worth $4.5 million. Additionally, Sensenbrenner reported life insurance policies worth about $675,000 and cash in his personal bank accounts of just over $200,000.

Sensenbrenner also reported nearly $853,000 in additional, miscellaneous assets, including two boats worth a combined $18,000 and deposits in a federal thrift savings plan worth $335,000.

-- U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, reported mostly small assets worth between $1,000 and $15,000 that didn't earn her any income. However, she did disclose a qualified blind trust worth between $250,000 and $500,000 that earned between $15,000 and $50,000.

Baldwin also disclosed the sale of more than a dozen stocks and bonds, including seven that netted her between $15,000 and $50,000 in income, each.

-- U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, reported income from his congressional salary and from his wife Tawni's job as a court reporter in the La Crosse County District Court.

Additionally, Kind reported assets from rental property and their family farm, including property in La Crosse worth between $50,000 and $100,000; farm property in Jackson County worth between $250,000 and $500,000; and rental farm property worth between $150,000 and $200,000. Kind also reported retirement and investment assets worth between $250,000 and $500,000.

-- U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, reported various assets and investments in stocks and real estate.

Among Ryan's financial holdings for year 2008 was an investment worth between $100,000 and $250,000 in AVA O Limited Co. Mining, of Madill, Okla. Ryan reported income from that investment of between $15,000 and $50,000. Ryan also reported a 10 percent stake in the company Blondie & Brownie LLC, worth between $100,000 and $250,000, with income earned for the year in the $5,000 to $15,000 range.

And he reported owning $50,000 to $100,000 worth of The Home Depot stock, which earned him $2,500 to $5,000 in income from dividends. The congressman also reported cash holdings of between $50,000 and $100,000 each in two Wells Fargo Bank EDVEST 529 college savings accounts. The accounts were designated for Ryan's three young children.

-- U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Appleton, an allergist by trade and personally wealthy, reported several assets worth between $100,000 and $250,000 on his 2008 financial disclosure documents. Kagen's reported holdings are heavy in municipal and state revenue bonds, with assets in cash and real estate also disclosed.

Among Kagen's holdings are $100,000 to $250,000 worth of Capital One Bank bonds; $100,000 to $250,000 worth of Anderson, Ind. Sewer Works revenue bonds; and $100,000 to $250,000 worth of an asset labeled "cash and money market fund balances."

The Congressman during 2008 engaged in the purchase and sale of a number of similar assets, including buying Green Bay bonds worth between $100,000 and $250,000 and selling Puerto Rico Commonwealth bonds for the price of between $100,000 and $250,000.

Additionally, Kagen reported Port St. Lucie, Fla. real estate holdings worth between $250,000 and $500,000; and a financial trust worth between $1 million and $5 million.

- By David M. Drucker

 12:35 PM 

Sensenbrenner rips decision on Voting Rights Act

U.S. Rep. Jim Sensebrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, said in a statement today that he is "disappointed" in a decision released Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court on a case involving the Voting Rights Act.

The court, in an 8-1 decision, ruled in favor of a local governing authority in Texas but did not offer its take the law's requirement of advance approval for changes to election procedures in a number of mostly Southern states. The requirement originally sought to stem election changes that could disadvantage minority voters in states with a history of racial segregation at the polls.

Sensenbrenner, a longtime proponent of the Voting Rights Act, blasted the ruling as eroding "the crown jewel of Civil Rights legislation."

"There is an extensive record that shows that discrimination still continues, yet the Supreme Court has unfortunately taken away this important protection for minorities to have their votes fairly cast and fairly counted," Sensebrenner said.

Friday, June 19, 2009

 12:05 PM 

Wisconsin members angered with Chrysler over Kenosha

U.S. Sens. Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, along with U.S. Reps. Paul Ryan and Gwen Moore, said that executives with Chrysler gave no indication that they are reconsidering their planned closure of a Chrysler engine plant in Kenosha.

The delegation members met with Chrysler vice chairman and president Jim Press and VP of external affairs John Bozzella Thursday in Washington.

"We are deeply disappointed and angered that Chrysler has chosen, in effect, to shift jobs to Mexico despite the years of loyal, productive service -- and more recently the tax dollars -- the workers of Kenosha have given the company to ensure a new Chrysler continues to produce cars," the members said in a joint statement. "We plan to call on the Administration to intervene."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

 3:57 PM 

Kind bill would reduce tax on small businesses

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, announced a new bill today that would alter penalties paid by so-called "S corporations" -- business that have less than 100 shareholders.

The S Corporation Modernization Act of 2009, co-authored by U.S. Reps. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., Wally Herger, R-Calif., and Alison Schwartz, D-Penn., would alter the tax rate on sold assets, which Kind said could reach up to 70 percent.

"Especially in this tough economic time, my goal is to look out for the small and family-owned businesses which drive our economy," Kind said in a statement. "This bill speaks to that, reducing a penalty on S corporations, and thus encouraging them to reinvest the savings into growing their business and creating jobs."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

 2:26 PM 

Health care advocates descend on D.C.

State legislators and activists from across the country convened on Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to push Congress and President Barack Obama to include a government-run insurance plan as a part of health care reform. The group was scheduled to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and with White House officials.

During a news conference with the state legislators held to highlight their efforts, U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Appleton, said health care reform must be national in scope.

"It should be abundantly clear that this health care problem can not be solved state by state by state," Kagen said.

Meanwhile, Citizen Action of Wisconsin's Robert Kraig said both his group and the Progressive States Network are emphasizing the importance of passing reform that includes a public option to compete with private insurance companies.

"We need a very strong plan that actually lowers costs and creates affordable access for everyone," Kraig said. "We think a public health insurance choice is one of those elements."

"If we just pass something that's a face-saving compromise that looks good here in the Capitol but doesn't actually get skyrocketing costs," Kraig continued, "Then we haven't solved the problem."

President Obama has demanded that the Congress pass a major health care reform bill this year. He has set Oct. 15 as a deadline for a bill to land on his desk.

- David M. Drucker

 2:25 PM 

Kohl subcommittee examines Social Security

U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Milwaukee, on Wednesday convened a hearing to examine strengthening the financial soundness of Social Security and how to ensure that Americans who depend on the program the most receive adequate benefits.

"With the urgent need to contain the federal deficit, there's no doubt that, sometime soon, all eyes will turn to Social Security," Kohl said during his opening remarks as chairman of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging.

Leon Burzynski, president of the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans, urged Kohl not to radically alter Social Security during his testimony, saying it is financially viable and works as it was intended to when it was created 75 years ago.

"Social Security is America's family insurance policy," Burzynski said. "With all due respect to those claiming the program is in financial crisis, [the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans] strongly (disagrees)."

- David M. Drucker

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

 5:08 PM 

Westlake kicks off Senate campaign

Watertown small business owner David Westlake will hold a fundraiser Wednesday to kick off his 2010 campaign against U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Middleton.

The event will be held at the Milford Hills Hunt Club in Johnson Creek from 5 to 8 p.m.

See details here.

 4:36 PM 

Moore amendment would provide legal aid to domestic violence victims

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, says her amendment to increase legal aid for victims of domestic violence will come up for a vote in the House Tuesday.

The amendment, attached to the 2010 Commerce, Science, Justice Appropriations Act, would provide $4 million in additional funding to the Civil Legal Assistance Program. Moore said in a statement that the program provides legal representaion for victims to "obtain restraining orders, win custody of their children, and navigate the complex and expensive criminal justice system."

"A financial barrier to the criminal and civil justice system should not deny women access to protection," Moore said. "It is critical that we increase funding for the legal assistance program, which will embolden women to raise their voices against domestic abuse through the justice system."

Friday, June 12, 2009

 2:32 PM 

Kagen launches new House Web site

U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Appleton, unveiled his new Congressional Web site today, showcasing "the latest news about what's happening in Northeast Wisconsin and the nation's capital."

Kagen announced that the site will include guidelines for receiving Recovery Act funding, video links to floor speeches, and an interactive map that "highlights Kagen's achievements for specific areas throughout the 8th Congressional District."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

 3:33 PM 

Petri backs away from contesting top GOP slot on education panel

Amid signals from House GOP leaders that they do not want a moderate to head the Education and Labor Committee, Rep. Tom Petri, the panel's second-ranking Republican, today declined to seek the top Republican spot on the committee.

"I have decided not to pursue the position of Ranking Republican on the Education and Labor Committee," Petri said in a statement released this afternoon. "I am working on many education issues, including student loan reform, and I believe I can be more effective if I maintain my independence. In the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee I will need to spend a great deal of time and effort on the upcoming transportation bills, which will be of great importance to the nation and to my home state."

The committee is often home to heated partisan battles, especially over labor issues, and many influential conservatives in the party were wary of handing the reins to either Petri, R-Fond du Lac, or Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., the fourth-ranking Republican, both of whom are politically moderate and have worked extensively with Dems on legislation. Castle today also withdrew his name from consideration.

Petri's substantial legislative accomplishments -- frequently achieved in collaboration with Dems -- haven't endeared him to the conservatives who run the House GOP and who have the most important say in who gets the plum post. In fact, Petri has been leapfrogged twice by more conservative members -- once on Education and Labor and once on Transportation and Infrastructure -- when it had seemed the Wisconsin lawmaker was well positioned by seniority to take the top Republican committee slot.

In an interview with wispolitics.com Monday, Petri said he has no regrets for the course he's taken. "I've attempted to be as effective as I can be," Petri said. "I guess you could argue that if you do what you're told, you're given more responsible positions and then you can be more effective. But I've tried to play it straight. Other people define effectiveness as beating the other team, but I define effectiveness as getting something constructive done."

Petri is the third-ranking Republican on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which is charged with writing a major surface-transportation reauthorization bill. He's also the top Republican on the panel's aviation subcommittee, which is trying to push through a landmark Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill.

--By Louis Jacobson

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

 2:12 PM 

Janesville-area delegation meets with GM

Members of Wisconsin's congressional delegation met Wednesday afternoon on Capitol Hill with officials from General Motors to make their case for the embattled car company to maintain its presence in the Badger State as it retools in the wake of its massive reorganization.

"We felt that we got a lot of good information and we're looking forward to continuing our efforts," said U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Milwaukee.

"Each of us made the case for Janesville. We know how important this is to our community," said U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville.

Following the meeting, Kohl, Ryan, U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Middleton and and U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, released a joint statement on the meeting, which included Troy Clarke, Head of GM's North American Division, and Tim Lee, Vice President of Manufacturing for General Motors.

"During our meeting with the executives from GM, we reiterated the strength and determination of Wisconsin's workforce in Rock County. We made it clear that workers in Janesville are eager and well prepared to help GM retool itself with this new line of small, more fuel-efficient cars," the statement read. "We appreciated the opportunity to speak directly to the executives and we will continue to work together to do all we can on behalf of Rock County and workers throughout Wisconsin."

Listen to the lawmakers' comments following the meeting here.

- David M. Drucker

 11:11 AM 

Petri positioned to take key post -- if his party lets him

GOP Congressman Tom Petri of Fond du Lac on Tuesday moved one step closer to a long-denied ranking member slot on a congressional committee.

But given his record of pursuing bipartisan legislative compromises at the expense of party-line loyalty, insiders say it isn't certain Petri would win the nod as top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee if he chose to pursue it.

The House Republican Steering Committee, an arm of the GOP leadership, voted Tuesday afternoon to appoint Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., as ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, filling a vacancy. To do that, McKeon would have to relinquish his slot as ranking member on Education and Labor, where Petri ranks second in seniority.

However, Petri's substantial legislative accomplishments -- frequently achieved in collaboration with Democrats -- haven't endeared him to the conservatives who run the House GOP and who have the most important say in who gets the plum post.

A spokesman for Petri told a WisPolitics.com correspondent after the vote that Petri hasn't yet determined what he'll do, though most observers expect him to compete for the Education and Labor slot. He's taken a leading role on the committee on a variety of education issues, notably direct lending for student loans, a stance that President Obama has more recently championed.

Either Petri or fellow moderate Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware, the fourth-ranking Republican on the panel, would be unacceptable to many in the GOP conference, given their willingness to support increases in federal spending. Education and Labor has historically been a locus for bitter ideological battles, and many conservatives feel a lawmaker like Petri might be tempted to compromise rather than aggressively take on the Democrats.

The third-ranking Republican on Education and Labor, Michigan Rep. Peter Hoekstra is considered unlikely to give up his spot as ranking member on the Intelligence Committee, leaving fifth-ranking Rep. Mark Souder of Indiana as a possible conservative rival.

Twice before, Petri has been the most senior Republican on a committee yet been passed over for the top GOP slot. After the 2000 elections, the fourth-ranking Republican on Education and Labor -- Ohio Congressman John Boehner, now the House minority leader -- leapfrogged Petri to take the committee chairmanship, a move that led Petri's office to decry a "purge of moderate Republicans."

Then, after the 2006 election, Petri was poised to take over the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's ranking slot, but Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., won the leadership's nod instead.

"He is an idea guy, very thoughtful and decent and smart," said Norm Ornstein, a Congress-watcher at the American Enterprise Institute. "His reward has been to be bypassed regularly for top posts in the areas where he could make the best and most constructive contributions. It says volumes about the current state of the Republican Party, and especially the House Republicans, that instead of promoting guys like Petri, who would have a broad appeal and show an image of a party that has ideas, it promotes guys like" Reps. Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, both of whom come from the party's right wing.

In comments that will win Petri no friends in the GOP conference, Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., who chairs an aviation subcommittee on which Petri serves as the ranking Republican, told WisPolitics.com that his Republican colleague was "a true partner" and "a joy to work with."

"If we had more members like Tom Petri in Congress, we would have less political bickering and would get more results," Costello said. While the two men differed over a number of labor-related provisions in a recent FAA reauthorization bill, Costello said Petri "was very civil, stated his disagreements, held firmly to them and made very clear he would vote against those provisions."

In an interview Monday, before the steering committee vote was taken, Petri said he has no regrets for the course he's taken.

"I've attempted to be as effective as I can be," Petri said. "I guess you could argue that if you do what you're told, you're given more responsible positions and then you can be more effective. But I've tried to play it straight. Other people define effectiveness as beating the other team, but I define effectiveness as getting something constructive done."

Republican restlessness extends to the electoral realm as well. With his voting record, Petri is always at risk of a primary challenge from the right, political watchers say, although he doesn't yet appear to have a significant opponent for 2010.

"Petri has somewhat of a non-partisan persona at home, which is why he might be a more intriguing target in a primary than a general election," said David Wasserman, who handicaps House races for the Cook Political Report. "But after three decades in the House, he is also so revered that he had no primary opposition in 2008 after voting against the Iraq troop surge. At this rate, any primary challenger would more likely be angling for the seat in case Petri retires than wrangling the seat away from him."

It also helps that Petri usually has a big campaign warchest -- at the end of March, his campaign committee reported $899,575 cash on hand.

Petri is the third-ranking Republican on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which is charged with writing a major surface-transportation reauthorization bill. He's also the top Republican on the panel's aviation subcommittee, which is trying to push through a landmark Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill.

"I've known him for over 20 years, and he is rock-solid on transportation issues," said Todd Hauptli, senior executive vice president at the American Association of Airport Executives. "When you're in the minority in the House of Representatives, you need to figure out how to work well with other people to get the things you want."

Matt Jeanneret, a spokesman for the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, concurs, saying, "Rep. Petri is not constrained by political ideology. He has been a champion for the need to boost federal transportation investments in all modes, and he believes in doing it in a fiscally responsible way. I wish we had more Petris in the House."

Even the National Education Association -- the giant teachers' union -- has only nice things to say about Petri.

"He's worked really well with the NEA. We've had really good access to him," said Randall Moody, the NEA's chief lobbyist. "There's great overlap between our views and Petri's. We don't always agree, but the key is the opportunity to make our case."

Petri also wins plaudits for how he handled his late-career shift from surface transportation to aviation.

"Some people questioned initially how quickly Petri would acclimate to aviation policy after being a surface transportation expert, but I think he's proven himself to be a very quick study, especially in air traffic control modernization," said independent aviation lobbyist Mike Korens.

Petri, 69, earned both undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard, worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Somalia and won a special election to the House in 1979. In Congress, he chaired the Transportation subcommittee responsible for surface transportation between 1995 and 2006, giving him an influential perch for shaping the massive highway reauthorization that is produced every couple of years.

The existing highway bill expires in September, and lawmakers envision a successor potentially as big as $450 billion. But financing the bill will be an enormous problem. The trust fund that is made up of tax revenue from gasoline and other transportation-related items has run out for two straight years, due to decreased driving during a recession as well as high gas prices. This means that lawmakers would have to dig into general revenues or raise taxes to fund needed transportation priorities -- neither of which is an appealing option.

Complicating matters further is the crowded congressional schedule, which has pushed off action at least past July 4. The trust fund's dire fiscal straits mean that even putting together a stopgap extension will be a challenge, Petri said.

The measure "has tremendous problems on the funding side," Petri said. "Normally it's not unusual to have a continuing resolution if you're not on schedule, but if we run out of money, doing a 'CR' without addressing at least some of the funding issues will be impossible."

Meanwhile, the FAA bill recently cleared the House for a second time in two Congresses but has yet to be approved in committee in the Senate. On the FAA bill, Petri joined with other committee leaders in backing higher passenger facility charges -- taxes on air travelers that goes for improvements to airports and other infrastructure. Traditionally, airports back such charges while airlines oppose them, Hauptli said.

"I'm optimistic that the FAA bill will at some point get to conference," Petri said, though he wasn't able to suggest a time frame.

As with other members of the Transportation panel, Petri is especially focused on ensuring aid for projects important to his state. These include the Medical Center interchange in southeastern Wisconsin and the addition of lanes to I-94 that runs from Milwaukee to the Illinois border. He's also looking to improve the rail infrastructure around Chicago, to relieve a bottleneck that sometimes forces cargo to be temporarily shifted from rail to tractor-trailer and back again.

"It takes as long for a boxcar to get through Chicago as it does to get from Los Angeles to Chicago," Petri said. "That makes a big difference for Wisconsin. We could piggyback more by rail if we could get predictable services."

Tom Howells, president of the Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association, said he and others in the state are glad to have Petri as someone who can reach across party lines to get work done.

"One of the things we've told him and our other delegation members is that we always appreciate the bipartisan efforts of our delegation on transportation," Howells said.

- Louis Jacobson

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

 2:25 PM 

Ryan chats about health care reform

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, took questions on health care reform in a chat on Politico.com this afternoon, defending his "Patient's Choice Act" and closing the door on his consideration of any public health option in a health care bill.

"I am not open to creating any policy architecture which puts the gov't in the position of competing with the private sector," Ryan wrote. "The deck will always be stacked, and can never be 'fair' competition."

Ryan added that his plan -- which provides a health care tax credit of more than $5,700 -- more than makes up for the average of $4,600 paid by families toward their health care. Ryan noted that the balance of the average family's health care cost --some $8,600 -- is paid by employers.

 10:19 AM 

Kagen: Single-payer health care system unlikely

Congressman Steve Kagen says while the votes aren't there for a single-payer system, a lot can be done to bring down costs.

Kagen's comments come in advance of President Obama's town hall on health care Thursday in Green Bay.

"I think we can (still) get prices down dramatically," Kagen, D-Appleton, told a Wisconsin Public Radio audience this morning. "But we simply don't have the votes for single-payer."

Kagen, a doctor who held his own health care forum in the 8th CD on Monday, said constitutional protections against discrimination can make sure people with pre-existing conditions can't get bounced from coverage and said a transparent cost structure could bring down premiums 20 percent.

Kagen advocated a "standard health benefit plan" that would be offered through private and public insurers, allowing consumers to compare prices.

He suggested that there's enough money being paid out for health care and that changes in the payment system will yield savings. "It's just a question of moving (the money) around," he said. "Congress has to find a balance."

The Obama town hall is scheduled for noon Thursday at Southwest High School, 1331 Packerland Drive in Green Bay. It comes a day before the state Dem convo in Green Bay.

Friday, June 5, 2009

 3:09 PM 

Doyle, U.S. DOT break ground on Racine County project

Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari and Gov. Jim Doyle broke ground on construction of a new interchange at I-94 and County G in Racine County this afternoon, kicking off a project that they say will employ more than 200 workers and take in $19.6 million in federal stimulus funding.

"This project is what the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is all about," said Pocari, who traveled to the state after his boss -- Secretary Ray LaHood -- cancelled his visit yesterday. "It's about putting Americans back to work as soon as possible, on projects that make a real difference in the quality of life for the folks who live and work in the area."

Doyle said that the project will not only supply hundreds of new jobs, but could fuel future economic growth in Southeastern Wisconsin. He argued that "good roads are an extremely valuable economic asset that can play a vital role in determining where a business will locate or expand."

Thursday, June 4, 2009

 2:52 PM 

LaHood cancels Racine County trip

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood won't be making the trip to Wisconsin tomorrow.

LaHood was scheduled to come to the groundbreaking of County G/I-94 interchange project in Racine. He will be replaced by Deputy Transportation Secretary John Pocari.

Gov. Jim Doyle will also be attending the grounbreaking. The project is paid for with funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Obama Administration officials have been fanning out across the Midwest this week to talk about job creation and stimulus efforts. Obama will be in Green Bay next week for a town hall meeting.

 1:47 PM 

Education secretary unveils grant program for displaced workers

MILWAUKEE -- U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today announced a $7 million national grant program aimed at helping displaced workers pursue second careers.

The money will be awarded on a competitive basis beginning in September and will range from $300,000 to a maximum of $750,000 per program over a three-year period.

Gov. Jim Doyle and Manpower CEO Jeffrey Joerres were also on hand at Milwaukee Area Technical College to announce the grants, which will be used for tutoring, counseling and other services intended to "remove the financial barriers" that stand in the way of displaced workers re-entering the job market, Duncan said.

The department will begin taking applications immediately.

Duncan stressed the important role that technical schools will play in helping the sagging economy recover, especially in a state like Wisconsin that has been hit hard by layoffs.

Wisconsin's unemployment rate peaked at 9.4 percent in March and still hovers near the 9-percent mark, the highest rate for the state in 26 years.

"We need to find a way to transform and reinvent our workforce, and higher education is the answer," Duncan said.

Duncan called the technical college system "an undervalued gem" and indicated that tech schools like MATC will be absolutely essential in providing the sagging economy with skilled talent to fill trade jobs and turn things around.

The grant money will be allocated competitively to maximize its impact and make a true difference for people seeking education for a second career.

"This is real money that will have a real impact," Duncan said.

Joerres added that with the availability of "in-place" jobs like teaching, electrical and other trades that can't be outsourced, the qualified talent produced by tech schools will be in large demand.

"Of the 10 toughest jobs for businesses to fill, nine of them employ skills taught at technical schools," Joerres said. "They get those people from places like MATC."

He also indicated that the perception of attending technical schools and pursuing the fields they teach needs to change, noting that parents have tended to push their children toward liberal arts schools that offer difficult placement opportunities post-graduation.

"We need to bring back the importance and the prestige of skilled trades," Joerres said.

The grant money will help a state facing a $6 billion budget deficit as the state government aims at protecting the education system from more massive cuts.

While Doyle spoke of sharing sacrifices during the current budget crisis and having to make many tough cuts, he believes that education is the way out of the recent economic situation and stressed that the education system cannot be undermined by the shortfall.

"We can't say to hard-workers in our higher education system that we don't have a place for you, and to people who have been laid off and need to make a living to come back in a couple years when we can do something for you," Doyle said.

Doyle also praised the Obama administration for allocating critical stimulus funds for education, saying that Wisconsin would have had to cut 10 percent to 15 percent of the state’s basic education infrastructure without the funds allocated through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"I'm thankful that we have people in Washington working so hard on education and making it such a priority," Doyle said.

The grant falls in line with the Obama Administration's assertion that education will be a critical factor in emerging from the country's economic plight. Several members of Obama's cabinet are touring the Midwest to visit communities affected by the fallout of the auto industry.

"We will educate our way to a stronger economy," Duncan said.

When asked about the sagging auto industry and its local impact with plants in Kenosha and Janesville closing, Duncan provided no specifics, but added that they are doing everything they can to aid those who lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

GM recently shut down production at its Janesville, while 800 jobs could be lost at the Chrysler plant in Kenosha next year. In both cases, state officials have been trumpeting the possibility that both plants could end up making a come back.

"It's important that we do not give up on anyone," Duncan said of the autoworkers who lose their jobs.

- Ryan Cardarella

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

 5:24 PM 

Doyle talks high speed rail with Biden

Gov. Jim Doyle was in Washington, D.C., today to meet with Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to talk about high speed rail projects in Wisconsin.

"There is a real opportunity for Wisconsin and the Midwest to become a leader in high speed passenger rail," Doyle said in a statement. "We need good, modern rail to revitalize our country's infrastructure and economy."

Also attending the meeting were Michigan Gov, Jennifer Granholm, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

LaHood will be in Racine Friday for the groundbreaking ceremony on the County G/I-94 interchange project.

Doyle will be back in Wisconsin tomorrow to meet with another member of Obama's cabinet -- Education Secretary Arne Duncan -- at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Duncan will then meet with students at Bay View High School.

 3:34 PM 

Wisconsin insurance commissioner addresses Kohl subcommittee

U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Milwaukee, on Wednesday convened a hearing to examine the long term care insurance industry, a major issue for seniors.

Among those invited to testify at this afternoon's hearing was Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner Sean Dilweg, who said the industry faces numerous challenges.

"This insurance has proven to be a very difficult product to regulate," Dilweg told Kohl while testifying before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, of which Kohl serves as the chairman.

In his opening remarks, Kohl framed the issue of long term care as a part of the discussion over health care reform that is ongoing on Capitol Hill. President Barack Obama is pushing Congress to enact a major health care overhaul by year's end.

"With America aging at an unprecedented rate, and with the high and rising costs of caring for a loved one, the financing of long-term care must be addressed if we are going to get health care costs under control," Kohl said.

Dilweg said state regulators have three priorities concerning companies offering long term care insurance, including ensuring their solvency. Dilweg also said that regulators are concerned that adequate consumer protections are in place and that the selling of policies is conducted properly.

"In Wisconsin, we always emphasize never to buy long-term care insurance in a vacuum," Dilweg added. "It should be part of" a broader retirement strategy.

- David M. Drucker

 10:20 AM 

Feingold gets 2010 opponent

David Westlake, a small business owner from Watertown, filed his papers yesterday to run against U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, the first Republican to jump into the race to challenge the three-term incumbent.

Westlake is a 1995 graduate of West Point who has never run for public office before.

"The entrepreneurial spirit and 'can-do' attitude of Americans is being stifled by excessive regulation and taxes," Westlake writes in a fundraising appeal. "Clearly, the American Dream is at risk ... and who is behind all of this? A party of liberal elites in Washington who believe that they know how to run your life better than you do.

"I fundamentally disagree with them."

See Westlake's campaign site here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

 1:09 PM 

Kohl announces floodplain funding from stimulus

$19.7 million additional federal stimulus dollars are heading to Wisconsin as part of an effort to restore more than 4,000 acres of floodplains.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the projects, which will attempt to restore the land to its natural state, on Tuesday. Wisconsin will receive the second-most funding nationally for the third-highest acreage of floodplains.

U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Milwaukee, said the funding will improve "habitat, water quality, flood prevention and conservation."

"That our state had so many successful applications is a testament to Wisconsin landowners and our conservation professionals," Kohl said in a statement. "This is a significant boost to sustainability in Wisconsin."

Monday, June 1, 2009

 4:33 PM 

Wisconsin biz leaders lobby against EFCA

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will host a number of Wisconsin businesses beginning Wednesday as part of a "Workforce Freedom Airlift lobbying blitz" in Washington, D.C.

The Wisconsin advocates will meet Wednesday at 9 a.m. before meeting at Capitol Hill from 10:30 to 4:30. The U.S. Chamber is undertaking an effort to end the Congressional push to pass a compromise Employee Free Choice Act.

 3:20 PM 

Education, Transportation secretaries to visit Wisconsin

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood are slated to visit the Badger State at the end of the week.

Duncan, along with Gov. Jim Doyle, will visit Milwaukee Area Technical College at 9 a.m. Thursday to discuss the department's efforts for communities reliant on the auto industry. He will then visit Bay View High School at 11:15 a.m. to field questions from students.

LaHood will be in Racine County Friday to host a groundbreaking ceremony for a project funded by the federal stimulus bill. Gov. Doyle will join LaHood at the intersection of County Road G and I-94 at 1:30 p.m.

See additional details at the WisPolitics Events Page.

 10:13 AM 

Kind, Ryan spar over health care reform

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind argued that the Democrats' plan for health care reform would save billions of dollars annually, while U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan warned that the plan would lead to rationed care on Sunday's "UpFront with Mike Gousha."

Kind, D-La Crosse, said that getting health care costs under control would have a "huge impact on public and private budgets."

"If we're going to have sustainable growth in this country with good job creation, we've got to deal with health care reform," Kind said.

The Democrats' approach would allow people to continue with their current employer-sponsored plan and also offer a government-run option. Additionally, it would revamp regulations to focus on quality over volume, Kind said.

"It is going to be about choice, but is also going to be about cost containment and how we revamp the incentive system so at the end of the day we're rewarding outcomes and quality rather than more volume and consumption," Kind said.

Ryan, R-Janesville, warned that the Democrats' plan for a government-run option would eventually lead to a government monopoly that would result in rationed care.

Ryan said the Republican plan to provide a $5,700 refundable tax credit for individuals to purchase private insurance coupled with health insurance reforms that encourage wellness and require companies to cover preexisting conditions would be a better option.

"You can have universal insurance in this country for everybody, regardless of preexisting conditions, without the government running the whole system," Ryan said.

Ryan said the government run option would eventually become a monopoly because the private insurance offered through employers would become unaffordable. This he said, would lead to rationed care.

While Ryan said the plan shows there is an alternative to the Democrats' plan, he conceded it's unlikely to be adopted.

Watch the program here.

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