• WisPolitics

Friday, July 31, 2009

 2:39 PM 

Obey lauds 'Cash for Clunkers' extension

House Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey said today's House vote to add $2 billion in additional funding to the so-called "Cash for Clunkers" program will keep cash flowing to an auto industry that has historically led the way out of economic difficulty.

The program, which provides up to $4,500 in federal rebates to consumers who trade in old vehicles for new, more fuel-efficient models, was to be suspended after its initial budget of $1 billion ran out in less than three days. But the House approved funding to extend the program by a 316-109 vote Friday afternoon.

The Wisconsin delegation split 6-2, with GOP U.S. Rep. Tom Petri of Fond du Lac voting with the state's five Democrats in favor of the new funding.

Obey, in a conference call with reporters Friday, said he and House leadership worked into the wee hours following last night's suspension announcement to come up with the additional funding from the budget surplus of the Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program. Today is the last session day before the August congressional recess; the Senate is expected to take up the extension later today.

"I think it will have a significant impact on auto sales around the country," Obey said of the extension. "This is one of the signs in the economy... of some things that are showing a positive trend."

The Wausau Democrat cited the public's "overwhelming demand" for the program -- he said as many as 240,000 rebate requests were ready to go as of last night -- as a mandate to extend the program. Without the additional funding, he said, "the result would simply be you have a 3 day program, and then it died."

In addition to the economic impact, Obey said the environment and fuel consumption could benefit even more from the program.

"The data so far seems to indicate that the mileage difference is much greater than anticipated," Obey said.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

 3:18 PM 

Club for Growth honors Sensenbrenner

The conservative-leaning Club for Growth has included U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, among 52 recipients of its Defender of Economic Freedom Award.

The award honors congressmen who compiled a score of 90 or higher on the Club's analysis of lawmakers' votes on "pro-growth policies."

"This is one simple way to review and measure how a Representative is protecting the tax dollars of his or her constituents," Sensenbrenner said in a statement. "I am humbled by The Club for Growth's recognition and appreciation of these efforts through the awarding of this honor."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

 2:59 PM 

Wis., N.H. lawmakers urge revision to 'Cash for Clunkers' insurance requirement

Congressional representatives from Wisconsin, Michigan and New Hampshire have asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to correct a rule that would disqualify as many as 15 percent of Wisconsin drivers from a rebate under the so-called "Cash for Clunkers" program.

The program, enacted under Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act of 2009, provides up to $4,500 for car buyers to trade in old vehicles for newer, more fuel efficient ones.

Dem U.S. Sens. Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, along with U.S. Reps. Gwen Moore, Ron Kind, Dave Obey, Tammy Baldwin, and Republican Tom Petri, have signed onto a letter to acting Deputy Administrator Ronald Medford asking for a revision to the rule requiring that eligible consumers be continuously insured for at least 1 year prior to the trade.

Wisconsin and New Hampshire are the only two states who do not currently require motorists to be insured; the latest state budget's auto insurance mandate takes effect next June.

"We urge you to take prompt action to correct this error as the program's $1 billion in funds could be depleted quickly," the letter states. "It is simply unacceptable to exclude law-abiding residents of Wisconsin and New Hampshire from this important program."

 10:14 AM 

Feingold says Senate will take a deliberate approach to health care reform

A federal health care reform package isn't likely to be passed out of the Senate until late this year, U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold said in a conference call with reporters this morning.

Feingold said he has heard from constituents that there is a dire need for reform "but that most of all we need to get it right and not rush too much."

The Middleton Democrat said that President Obama has shown "presidential leadership" in pushing the discussion of health care reform onto the national stage and praised Obama for listening to those who are calling for a deliberate process.

"If the president hadn't pushed this, the focus of the country wouldn't be on this issue," he said. "This is presidential leadership."

Feingold said he expects a conference committee of House and Senate members to hash out differences in the legislation in the fall and doesn't expect final passage by the Senate until “right down to the wire near Christmas."

Feingold said a public option is vital to reform, saying it would force the private sector to perform better, provide an option for those who currently don't have insurance and create an alternative for people who are unhappy with their current health coverage.

But he said the reforms will not amount to rationing of health care.

"We're not going to go for rationing of health care. I'm not for it. I don't want it for me, I don't want it for my family nor does anybody else," Feingold said. "So I guarantee you if there is rationing here, as people define it, that has to be removed."

Feingold said until there is a final proposal, it's not clear how to pay for the reforms. But he said part of the answer may be to have larger businesses play a role by "either participating in a new system or paying what I would hope would be a more reasonable or modest amount in order to not participate in the system."

Listen to the conference call here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

 11:04 AM 

Kohl, Feingold vote to confirm Sotomayor

Wisconsin's U.S. senators, both members of the Judiciary Committee, joined the majority in the committee's 13-6 vote to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court this morning.

Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina joined 12 Democrats in voting for her nomination; 6 Republicans voted against Sotomayor. She will now face a confirmation vote before the full Senate, which could come before Congress' August recess.

U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl of Milwaukee said that Sotomayor's story as a child of immigrants in working class New York City is an "inspiration to millions," but stressed that, "Both on the bench and before this Committee, Judge Sotomayor has proved that she has the necessary character, competence and integrity to serve on the Supreme Court."

U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold of Middleton said he was impressed with Sotomayor's committment to judicial ethics, and said he believes she will "have the courage to defend the liberties of the American people from an overreaching executive or legislative branch."

Both senators told their colleagues that the confirmation process should include a more candid discussion of the issues, with Feingold noting that the proceedings for nominating a new justice have become "little more than theater, where Senators try to ask clever questions and nominees try to come up with cleverer ways to respond without answering."

 9:51 AM 

Recovery Act funding to add or keep 58 law enforcement positions

More than $12 million in Recovery Act grants are headed to Wisconsin law enforcement agencies to fund the hiring or rehiring of 58 cops, Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced today. The bulk of the grants, more than $10 million, is headed to the City of Milwaukee.

The grants will provide 100 percent of the salary and benefits for the officers for the next three years. Agencies receiving the grants will be required to retain the positions through a fourth year.

The grants to Wisconsin are part of $1 billion being sent out to to law enforcement agencies nationwide.

Monday, July 27, 2009

 1:40 PM 

Feingold, Conyers seek to reinstate voting rights for convicts

U.S. Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Middleton, and John Conyers, D-Mich., have reintroduced their Democracy Restoration Act, which would restore voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences.

The senators said in a statement today that of the 5 million felons currently ineligible to vote, three-quarters are not in prison.

"The expansion of voting rights to the poor, women, minorities and young people is one of the greatest stories in our country's history," Feingold said. "We should continue this legacy by expanding the right to vote to those who have fully paid their debt to society."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

 1:57 PM 

Feingold lobbies White House budget director on SeniorCare

U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Middleton, said today he urged the president's budget director to quickly approve a waiver application to extend Wisconsin's SeniorCare program for another two years.

The Bush Administration seemed poised to fold Wisconsin seniors on the program into the federal prescription drug program two years ago before lawmakers secured a waiver that expires on Dec. 31.

Feingold said in a statement that he reiterated in his phone conversation with Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag the program's success and popularity while saving the government an estimated $55 million over five years. He also reminded Orszag of President Obama's positive comments about SeniorCare while on the campaign trail.

"Director Orszag was receptive, and I will continue to work with Governor Doyle, Senator Kohl and other Wisconsin officials to ensure this successful program continues," Feingold said in the statement.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

 11:10 AM 

Kagen happy health care reform includes pet provisions

U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen said the health care reform legislation now moving its way through Congress is not perfect. But he's pleased that it includes provisions he has long supported such as a more transparent system so the public can compare prices and one to ensure those with pre-existing conditions will not be discriminated against.

Kagen, D-Appleton, said he has some concerns about the bill and was working on things like ensuring in Medicaid payments to the states. While he said he was most concerned with making sure the bill was done right, he also was not overly concerned with the speed at which the bill was moving through Congress. Leaders want a vote before lawmakers break for the August recess.

"My patients can't hold their breath any longer," said Kagen, an allergist. "They need help now. They can't afford their prescription drugs."

Critics have raised concerns about the long-term costs of the proposals, and Kagen vowed during a conference call with reporters that he will not vote for legislation that would harm the economy.

He said the package would actually help stimulate the economy because it would aid small business owners in cutting their health care costs and easing a huge overhead cost for them.

"Make no mistake about it. This piece of health care legislation is a jobs bill," Kagen said. "We will stimulate our economy."

Friday, July 17, 2009

 9:25 AM 

Vilsack hears complaints from organic farmers

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said he's using the Obama Administration's "Rural Tour" to listen. On Thursday he got an earful from about 250 organic farmers and their supporters, who are concerned about what they consider unfair practices by big corporations in the dairy industry.

The group rallied at the La Crosse Interstate Fair before a community forum featuring Vilsack, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Gov. Jim Doyle. Vilsack came to the rally and heard the farmers' pleas.

"In general, organic farmers are very positive about what is coming out of the Obama administration so far," said Cornucopia Institute's Mark Kastel in an interview before the rally. "We realize they inherited a mess from the Bush administration.

"What we want is for Secretary Vilsack to know the gravity of the situation that many organic farmers are facing right now," said Kastel, whose organization advocates for organic farming.

Milk prices have fallen, in part because of an overall soft market, but also because some large companies -- such as Dean Foods, HP Hood of Boston and Aurora Dairy -- are producing milk through so-called "factory farms" and cutting out small and medium organic farmers, Kastel said.

See more from WisBusiness.com here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

 5:24 PM 

Kohl names new chief of staff

U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Milwaukee, has named Phil Karsting as his new chief of staff.

Karsting, Kohl's current deputy chief of staff, has worked in the Senate for more than 18 years, including as a Budget Committee staffer and as an aide to Kohl and former Sen. Jim Exon of Nebraska.

"His dedication to public service, his deep understanding of the legislative process and his commitment to getting things done have impressed me over the years," Kohl said of Karsting in a statement.

Karsting will take over for Paul Bock -- who has served as Kohl's chief of staff since 1997 -- in September. Bock is taking a position in the private sector.

 1:49 PM 

Feingold, Kohl ask for help for dairy producers

Wisconsin's U.S. senators said they appreciated the Obama administration's outreach to rural areas today, but encouraged Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to do more to alleviate the recession's impact on dairy farmers.

In a letter to the USDA issued Wednesday, Sens. Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl asked Vilsack to increase the purchase price for products under the federal Dairy Price Support program. Vilsack, along with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Gov. Jim Doyle, visited the La Crosse area today as part of the adminsitration's "rural tour."

"During January and April this year, the U.S. all-milk price has averaged $4.80 per cwt. below the U.S. average cash cost of production," the letter states. "A meaningful but temporary increase in the Dairy Price Support program will being to restore farm level prices and help restore producers' ability to produce basic cash flow for their operations during these difficult financial times."

See more coverage of the La Crosse "rural tour" stop here.

 11:57 AM 

NRCC robocalls criticize Obey

U.S. Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wausau, likely hasn't been thought of as a targeted incumbent for most of his 40 years on Capitol Hill.

But with a new opponent in Wisconsin's 7th CD and his name all over a series of controversial economic stimulus and budget acts as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee is targeting Obey with robocalls in northern Wisconsin.

"Wisconsin is losing jobs, yet David Obey is focused on spending your money and carrying water for Nancy Pelosi's failed stimulus bill," the speaker says in the call. "Dave Obey and Nancy Pelosi's stimulus bill adds nearly a trillion dollars to the deficit -- at a time when Wisconsin families are hurting."

Ashland Co. DA Sean Duffy announced his candidacy for the 7th CD last week, joining 2008 candidate Dan Mielke in the GOP primary field.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

 2:53 PM 

Feingold takes on national security, executive power

U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold took his turn questioning Judge Sonia Sotomayor during her confirmation hearing this afternoon, primarily using his time to examine what he perceived as abuses of executive power in the interest of national security.

He led off his line of questioning by asking if Sotomayor's views of the constitution had changed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

"The constitution is a timeless document," Sotomayor responded. "It has protected us as a nation. It has inspired our survival. That doesn't change."

Sotomayor declined to go into specifics on a number of issues Feingold raised on national security, citing the court's role in overseeing legislative and executive actions. She did agree with Feingold that the Supreme Court has found violations of constitutional or statutory issues in some federal actions relating to the War on Terror.

See a transcript of Feingold's questions here.

 10:26 AM 

Kohl questions Sotomayor

U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl got the opportunity this morning to question Sonia Sotomayor as part of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Kohl, D-Milwaukee, followed GOP ranking member Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who grilled Sotomayor about her past speeches and whether her comments suggested she allowed personal biases to impact her legal decisions.

Kohl took a much more friendly approach to the nominee.

"I believe what my record shows is that I follow the law," Sotomayor responded to one of Kohl's questions.

Kohl also asked Sotomayor her thoughts on affirmative action, Bush v. Gore and other legal issues.

See a transcript of Kohl's questions here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

 12:38 PM 

'New Democrat' Kind has role in national health care reform

Western Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind may not be a household name in health care policy. But as efforts to overhaul the nation's health care system move toward a climax this summer, sources inside and outside Congress say the moderate Democrat has quietly carved out a notable role.

Kind has co-sponsored two pieces of legislation that have a shot at being incorporated in whatever final version of health care reform is considered this year in Congress.

Kind told WisPolitics.com a bipartisan approach, rather than legislation that adheres to only the views of Democrats, works best.

"I still believe that Congress functions best when it works in a bipartisan fashion," he said. "That comes from listening."

One bill (H.R. 2502) addresses "comparative effectiveness" research -- that is, studies that compare various medical treatments in hopes of finding out which ones work most effectively and which ones should be discouraged. The measure Kind supports would establish an independent comparative effectiveness research trust fund and a board with 21 stakeholder representatives, including those from the medical profession and patients' groups, to oversee such research.

Backers of the bill see it, in part, as a way of rebutting claims by some Republicans that comparative effectiveness research -- which received $1.1 billion in this year's economic stimulus package -- is a slippery slope leading to bureaucrats deciding how a patient's ailments should be treated.

Supporters of H.R. 2502 say comparative effectiveness research is vital to the nation's future health care system -- as long as safeguards are provided.

The second bill Kind is supporting -- the Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, Act (H.R. 2360) -- would encourage small businesses and self-employed individuals to band together in a statewide or nationwide pool to obtain lower health insurance prices. It would also provide small business owners with a tax credit for sharing the cost of their employees' health care premiums, among other provisions.

The SHOP Act has attracted supporters ranging across the ideological spectrum, including such business groups as the National Federation of Independent Business, the National Association of Realtors and the National Restaurant Association, and such labor and liberal groups as the Service Employees International Union, Families USA and the National Partnership for Women and Families.

While Kind hardly has the clout of such key figures as Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., or House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the seven-term Wisconsin lawmaker has influence for two distinct reasons.

Kind is a member of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, which is tasked with helping write a preliminary House version of health care legislation. However, because Kind is a junior member of that subpanel, it's arguably more important that Kind is a vice-chair of the New Democrat Coalition, a group of several dozen Democrats who have moderate-to-liberal views on domestic policy but who also maintain good ties to business.

The New Democrats -- the ideological heirs of the Democratic Leadership Coalition, which helped shape Bill Clinton's centrist approach when he first ran for president -- "are a significant group that the speaker and the key committee chairs will need to work closely with as they prepare a final bill," said Ron Pollack, the executive director of Families USA and a veteran of years of congressional skirmishing over health care policy. "The New Democrats have clearly wanted to make a mark on this legislation, and they undoubtedly will."

Robert Moffit, director of the center for health policy studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation, agreed that House moderates will play a role in whatever health care legislation emerges from Congress, even if conventional wisdom is correct in suggesting the Senate -- where lawmakers must meet a 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster -- will ultimately shape the bill more directly.

Moffit noted that a chunk of New Democrats, along with members of the somewhat more conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, will likely provide the House Democratic leadership with the votes they'll need to pass health legislation. And if the recent 219-212 vote on cap-and-trade energy legislation is any indication, the House margin on a health care bill will likely be narrow.

"It's not so much that the House's decisions are decisive, but if you pass a bill by a close margin in the House, it strengthens the hand of moderate Democrats in the Senate," Moffit said. "If you pass the House bill by a one-vote majority, that says to moderate Democrats in the Senate that they have a real shot at shaping the final outcome."

Kind, in an interview, said the New Democrats place a high priority on overhauling the delivery system for health care. He noted the group's past efforts to advance the spread of health information technology, which received a major boost in the economic stimulus bill.

"We're for changing the incentives and reimbursements, rewarding value, not volume," Kind said. "Based on studies, there's incredible over-utilization. Thirty cents of every dollar spent on care and treatment doesn't improve patient health. That's where you go to find the savings that make wider coverage possible."

The SHOP Act provides an example of the approach Kind prefers. The bill grew out of efforts long promoted by the NFIB to allow "association health plans" -- the ability of trade and professional groups to offer their members health care plans across state lines, as corporations and unions already may do.

Despite years of aggressive lobbying by the influential small business group, it eventually became clear the legislation as written couldn't win passage. So NFIB and its allies decided to broaden their alliance by crafting what is now the SHOP Act.

The payoff from that rewrite was the support of groups like SEIU and Families USA -- and of lawmakers like Kind, who had gone so far as to sponsor alternative legislation to NFIB's association health plans bill in a previous Congress.

"On health care, Congressman Kind is a critical and welcome addition to the small-employer community," said Michelle Dimarob, NFIB's manager of legislative affairs for the House. "He does a very good job representing the needs of small business owners in affording and offering health insurance."

Observers say Kind's sensitivity to such issues stems from his Eau Claire- and La Crosse-based 3rd Congressional District, which is heavy with small businesses and small farms and for a long time was represented by GOP moderate Steve Gunderson.

La Crosse is also home to the Gundersen Lutheran Health System, which has shown interest in comparative effectiveness.

In general, Wisconsin and its lawmakers have taken an outsized role in health care policy this year. President Obama recently traveled to the perennial swing area of Green Bay to hold a health care town hall meeting, in part because studies have shown that some of the state's health systems rank high compared to the rest of the nation in controlling costs and improving patient outcomes. And two other members of the Wisconsin congressional delegation have been active on the issue -- Democratic Rep. Steve Kagen, himself a physician, and House Budget ranking GOP member Paul Ryan, who has focused attention on the price tag of overhauling the health care system.

Health care activists who have worked with Kind in Wisconsin give him high marks. Health policy is clearly "an issue that is near and dear to his heart," said Lisa Lamkins, advocacy director of AARP Wisconsin.

Robert Kraig, of the liberal group Citizen Action Wisconsin, said his group has worked extensively with Kind, including efforts to secure his support on a public option within health care reform -- a stance that separates most liberal Democrats from moderate Democrats.

"We haven't taken an official stance" on the comparative effectiveness bill or the SHOP Act, Kraig said. "But we think what he's trying to do is excellent. He's engaged and hopes to bring together a high-quality deal."

Kind also has a reputation as something of a maverick. His efforts, so far unsuccessful, to eliminate farm subsidies "have perplexed people in agriculture because dairy subsidies matter so much to his district," said Jerry Hagstrom, the ex-president of the North American Agricultural Journalists and an agriculture reporter for CongressDaily.

But Tony Coelho -- the former House Democratic whip who now chairs the Partnership to Improve Patient Care, a prime backer of the comparative effectiveness bill -- sees him as a staunch partner. "To have someone like Ron, who is considered an up-and-comer, is very significant," he said. "The New Democrats are a group of younger, aggressive members. They intend to be around for a while and want to be effective in Congress."

Members of Coelho's group run the gamut from major health care industry players (the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Biotechnology Industry Organization) to medical specialty societies (cardiology, gastroenterology, urology) to patient advocacy groups (for autism, epilepsy, mental illness) and even a conservative legal group (the Washington Legal Foundation).

"We are supporters of comparative effectiveness research," Coelho said. "We just want to make sure it's done right. We don't want the government dictating to patients and doctors what kind of health care we should have. But we want the research done and to make sure that patients and doctors have it."

Michael F. Cannon, director of health policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, is skeptical.

"Generally speaking, whatever Congress tries to do on comparative effectiveness research is either useless or fails," Cannon said. "The reason it fails is that useful research poses a threat to the incomes of special interests. ... The government has proven it's not capable of producing a steady stream of useful research because politics always ends up winning the day."

However the health care debate plays out, some wonder whether Kind, 44, and his New Democrat colleagues will increase their clout in years to come, as the "old guard" of Democratic leaders exits the stage.

"Are the New Democrats truly a new generation of Democrats?" asked Alec Vachon, a former Republican congressional aide and an independent health care policy analyst in Washington. "As the senior guys peel off, are they going to have a different perspective, closer to that of moderate Republicans?"

In the meantime, it appears Kind will be a player in the ultimate answer to those questions.

- Louis Jacobson

 11:13 AM 

Ryan reports $1.3 million warchest

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, released his second quarter Federal Election Commission filing Monday, two days ahead of their Wednesday due date.

Ryan, the top Republican on the House Budget Committee, reported raising a healthy $375,000 for the period beginning April 1 and ending June 30. He now has a formidable $1.3 million in campaign funds in the bank to spend on his re-election to the 1st district in November 2010.

"Out of touch politicians in Washington think they can tax, spend and borrow beyond our means to solve every problem," Ryan said in a statement released by his campaign. "Wisconsinites know better and are supporting my efforts to stop across the board tax increases, runaway government spending and unsustainable borrowing."

According to Ryan's campaign, 2,620 Wisconsin residents have donated to Ryan's campaign since the beginning of the year. During that period, 82 percent of the donors contributed $100 or less. Ryan has added more than 2,000 new donors in the past 12 months. Additionally, Wisconsin residents account for 95 percent of Ryan's individual contributions over the course of the past year.

- David M. Drucker

Friday, July 10, 2009

 3:02 PM 

State gets $56.6 for weatherization projects

The U.S. Department of Energy announced today that Wisconsin is one of thirteen states to receive weatherization funding under the federal stimulus act, with the Badger State federal funds totaling $56.6 million.

The new funding comes after Energy Secretary Steven Chu touted the potential $197 million in weatherization funding for the state during a visit to Milwaukee's south side in March. Chu said the state will receive more funding as it meets federal thresholds for the economic stimulus bill.

The funding provides energy conservation services to low-income renters and homeowners throughout the state

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

 4:54 PM 

Feingold among least likely Dems to vote with Obama

Russ Feingold and Arlen Specter, who until recently was a Republican, are the least likely Dems in the U.S. Senate to vote with the president, according to a data base created by CQ Politics.

Feingold of Middleton and Specter of Pennsylvania have supported the president 86 percent of the time, according to the data base, which tracks votes for 2009.

Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Milwaukee, has voted with the president 97 percent of the time.

The data base also includes measures on party unity and how frequently lawmakers show up to vote. Feingold scored a 78 on party unity and 100 on participation. Kohl had a 94 on party unity and 100 on participation.

For Wisconsin's House delegation, Dem Gwen Moore of Milwaukee was most likely to vote with the president, while Republican Jim Sensenbrenner of Menomonee Falls was the least likely to support Obama.

Here are the House scores from the data base:
Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, 92 presidential, 99 party, 99 participation
Steve Kagen, D-Appleton, 88 presidential, 99 party, 97 participation
Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, 92 presidential, 90 party, 98 participation
Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, 100 presidential, 99 party, 97 participation
Dave Obey, D-Wausau, 96 presidential, 99 party, 97 participation
Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac, 35 presidential, 89 party, 99 participation
Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, 24 presidential, 97 party, 99 participation
Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, 19 presidential, 98 party, 100 participation

 9:57 AM 

Duffy announces congressional run

Ashland County DA Sean Duffy -- a lumberjack and former cast member on MTV's "Real World" -- announced this morning in Rothschild that he will challenge U.S. Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wausau, as a Republican in the 7th Congressional District next year.

"David Obey says he stands for Wisconsin values," Duffy said in a statement. "Last time I checked, spending money we don't have is not a Wisconsin value, and promoting big government takeovers of private businesses is not Wisconsin common sense."

Duffy will also make his announcement this afternoon in Hayward. He is the second Republican to enter the 2010 race, along with Dan Mielke, a farmer from Rudolph who lost to Obey in the 2008 election.

Obey, the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, has served his northern Wisconsin district in Congress since 1969 and has been re-elected 20 times.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

 1:56 PM 

Duffy to make 'special announcement' on 7th CD

Ashland County DA Sean Duffy is making a "special announcement" tomorrow regarding the 7th CD during stops in Rothschild and Hayward.

Duffy has previously expressed interest in taking on Dem incumbent Dave Obey, who has held the seat for four decades and is chair of the Appropriations Committee.

See details of the announcements here.

See more on the potential 7th CD race here.

 12:35 PM 

Feingold presses ambassador nominee on motorcycle trade

U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Middleton, urged President Obama's nominee as ambassador to India to consider a Milwaukee institution during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Tuesday.

Feingold, during his questioning of former U.S. Rep. Tim Roemer (D-Ind.), said that Indian tariffs on certain motorcycle imports, including Harley-Davidson, reach as high as 60 percent.

"Harley has built motorcycles in Milwaukee for over a century and they see India as a promising export market but the enormous tariff makes it basically impossible for them to enter the market," Feingold told Roemer. "Harley is not of course looking for special treatment, they want a level playing field."

Roemer responded that opening new markets for American manufacturing would be a priority for both the Obama administration and Roemer as ambassador. He added that he looked forward to "maybe, possibly riding a motorcycle by Harley-Davidson in New Delhi someday."

 10:59 AM 

Poll: Kohl has 57 percent approval rating; Feingold at 56 percent

President Obama fared best among Wisconsin adults in the most recent Survey USA poll of the state, with both of the state's U.S. senators trailing closely behind.

The survey, conducted June 12-14, found 59 percent of state residents approved of the job Obama is doing, compared to 38 percent who disapprove.

It also gives Sen. Herb Kohl a 57 percent approval rating, while 56 percent approve of the job Sen. Russ Feingold is doing.

Thirty-four percent disapprove of Kohl's performance, while 37 percent didn't approve of Feingold's work.

The survey of 600 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

See the Obama poll here.

See the Senate poll here.

Monday, July 6, 2009

 1:49 PM 

Kohl looks to bolster court interpreters

U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl has introduced a bill he says will improve training and testing of interpreters for non-English speakers during court proceedings.

The proposal would create a federal grant program to fund the improvements. The Milwaukee Democrat said the wide disparity between state standards for court interpreters results in "the potential for poorly translated court proceedings, or court proceedings that are not translated at all."

"The shortage of qualified interpreters has become a national problem, and it has serious consequences," Kohl said in a statement. "When interpreters are unqualified, or untrained, mistakes are made."

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

 12:38 PM 

Duffy considering 7th CD run

Ashland Co. DA Sean Duffy told Politico.com Tuesday that he is "seriously considering" taking on longtime U.S. Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wausau, in 2010.

Obey recently celebrated his 40th year in Congress, but Duffy said he believes the incumbent may be vulnerable after steering a number of controversial economic recovery measures through the House as chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee. He added that Obey won with 61 percent of the vote against Daniel Mielke in 2008 -- who was characterized in the article as a "no-name opponent."

That drew criticism from Mielke, who plans to challenge Obey again next year.

"I am an American and I am tired of politicians thinking that American citizens, who work in the real world, are 'no-names,'" Mielke said in a statement. "We 'no-names' are being milked like cattle to fund these politician's (sic) spending sprees."

Both Mielke and Politico noted Duffy's role in the 6th season of the MTV series "Real World," set in Boston before he launched his legal and political career. Politico writes that Duffy would be the second "Real World" alum to run for Congress after Kevin Powell lost in a Democratic primary to U.S. Rep. Edolphus Towns of New York.

 12:21 PM 

Gard will not run for Congress next year

Former Assembly Speaker John Gard and his wife Cate Zeuske, the former Revenue secretary, have purchased Wisconsin Independent Businesses and Explore Wisconsin.

Gard, who made unsuccessful bids for the 8th CD in 2006 and 2008, said the purchase of both entities from owners Tom and Nancy Dohn takes him out of the running for 2010.

Gard took some time after the '08 campaign to decide what he wanted to do next when this opportunity presented itself. The sale was expected to be finalized today.

See more in Tuesday's PM Update.

 12:20 PM 

Another opponent for Kagen

Roofing company owner Reid Ribble tells WisPolitics he plans to file nomination papers later this week to officially get into the GOP primary to take on Dem U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen next year in the 8th CD.

Ribble, whose group owns two roofing companies and a gutter protection company, said he was in Washington, D.C., this month to meet with the NRCC, some members of Congress, national trade groups and consultants. But he said it was his conscience that persuaded him to get into the race.

"My passions in the early stages are just the runaway spending and the national debt," Ribble said. "I think Americans are getting very concerned. I know that I'm getting concerned with an $11.5 trillion national debt. With socialized medicine coming down the pipe, cap-and-trade, it's all going to cost this country and economy jobs and money."

Ribble joins Door Co, Super. Marc Savard and Brown Co. Super. Andy Williams as Republicans who have already announced they're running, With others considering a bid as well, Ribble said he expects to stand apart from the crowd because he's not a "career politician" and his background in the business world.

"I understand what it takes to create jobs and sustain a business," said Ribble, who has never run for public office before.

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