U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Appleton, reiterated this morning that a public health insurance option is just one way of leveraging down health care costs in a final reform bill.
But that didn't stop him from taking shots at Republicans the day after the Senate Finance Committee shot down a pair of amendments to add a public option to its version of the health care bill.
Kagen -- who said he caught some of the Finance Committee hearing on C-SPAN -- summarized Nevada Sen. John Ensign's arguments against the public option as, "It might be too good, and people might like it."
Still, the longtime allergist said the details of the final bill must be negotiated with House Democratic leaders -- who are likely to include a public option in their version of the bill -- and said the most important aspects of the bill remain to eliminate pre-existing conditions, create cost transparency, and establish a standard health plan to provide basic coverage from all insurance providers.
"We want the insurance companies to be processing paper, not practicing medicine," Kagen said in a conference call with reporters hosted by Organizing for America, which included testimonials on the need for health care reform from a Wisconsin physicians and nurse. He also said that, in particular, small businesses and seniors would benefit from proposed changes through insurance pools and access to preventative care.
"People who feel safe don't know whats coming," Kagen added. "They may lose their insurance next year, when it becomes preposterously expensive."
Following a pair of votes in the Senate Finance Committee today that rejected amendments to implement a public health coverage option in a health care reform bill, U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold said late this afternoon that he would continue to work to include that provision in a final bill.
The committee, chaired by Max Baucus of Montana, is one of five Congressional committees working on health care bills, and the only one to produce a bill without a public option. Democrats Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Chuck Schumer of New York introduced bills to include some form of public option; Rockefeller's was rejected 15-8 while Schumer's went down to defeat 13-10.
"A public health insurance option is key to ensuring every American is able to afford health insurance and without it, I don't see how we will bring real reform to the system," said Feingold, D-Middleton, in a statement.
As Republicans attempt to take advantage of what they see as a favorable environment next year, the national GOP has added a pair of Wisconsin Dems long considered to be safe incumbents to its target list.
D.C.-based newspaper The Hill reports that U.S. Reps. Ron Kind of La Crosse and Dave Obey of Wausau have been added as 2010 targets, joining Steve Kagen of Appleton in the swing-seat 8th CD.
Kind, a seven-term incumbent in the Dem-leaning 3rd CD, confirmed he would run for re-election last week after considering a run for governor. Obey, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has served the 7th CD for more than 40 years.
GOP operatives told The Hill that both Kind's and Obey's districts have challengers "who could win under the right circumstances." Kind is facing second-term state Sen. Dan Kapanke of La Crosse, while Obey has a pair of opponents -- Ashland Co. DA Sean Duffy has joined 2008 candidate Dan Mielke in a GOP primary.
After Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in TV interviews over the weekend that setting a timetable for removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan would be a "strategic mistake," U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold countered that the U.S. needs a more global approach to combating al Qaeda.
"I think that the notion of time lines and exit strategies and so on, frankly, I think, would all be a strategic mistake," Gates told CNN's 'State of the Union.' "The reality is, failure in Afghanistan would be a huge setback for the United States."
Feingold, D-Middleton, has been among the most vocal Senate advocates of an Afghanistan timetable, citing the role of continuing American intervention in fostering instability in neighboring Pakistan.
"A flexible timetable to draw down our troops from Afghanistan would help us to focus resources and attention on the threat posed by al Qaeda in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, North Africa and around the world," Feingold said in a statement Sunday. "Devoting billions more dollars and tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan is not likely to significantly improve conditions in that country."
U.S. Reps. Tammy Baldwin and Jason Altmire have vastly difference priorities for a final health care reform package, but both agree that such a package is likely to get through Congress this year.
Baldwin, the Madison Dem who has long been an advocate of single-payer health care, joined Altmire, a Western Pennsylvania Blue Dog Democrat, at a health care breakfast event sponsored by the National Journal and United Technologies on Tuesday.
"When you have a bloc that says, 'We can't support this unless...,' that's a huge amount of leverage," Baldwin said of the Blue Dog coalition at the event, as reported by National Journal. "But we have to come together since it appears that we can't rely on any Republican votes on final passage."
U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, announced today that he will not run for governor in 2010, saying he has a responsibility to stay in Congress to work on health care reform.
Kind said this afternoon he was humbled by the outpouring of support he received while contemplating a bid.
"But I also have a very serious responsibility and a job to do right now," Kind told reporters in a conference call announcing his decision this afternoon.
"The fact that I'm in the middle of these intense negotiations that are taking place right now tells me I've got a primary responsibility to do this job well."
Kind said he was under no pressure from Democratic leadership to remain in the House. Despite winning re-election comfortably in recent cycles, Kind sits in a moderate district with a GOP candidate already announced for 2010 in state Sen. Dan Kapanke of La Crosse.
Kapanke's campaign said Kind's decision "re-affirms the clear choice that voters will have next November: a Congressman whose party supports higher taxes and a government takeover of health care or someone who will stand up for the middle class and oppose higher taxes and the government health care takeover."
U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Middleton, says he's "encouraged" by President Obama's remarks about the deployment of additional troops to Afghanistan.
The president, during an onslaught of TV appearances late last week, told ABC News' "This Week" that he's part of a "skeptical audience" about American involvement in the embattled nation, and that he believes American forces had lost focus on the core of their mission. Obama said his administration continues to review the situation, noting that an additional deployment earlier this year was sent to secure the recent elections.
Feingold, who has called for a flexible timetable for bringing American troops out of Afghanistan, said Obama's comments -- and those of General Stanley McChrystal is his assessment of Afghanistan reported on in this morning's Washington Post -- mirror his belief that "sending more troops doesn't automatically make Americans more safe."
"Spending billions more dollars and sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan may not significantly improve conditions on the ground and may actually prove counterproductive in stabilizing Pakistan and fighting al Qaeda in the region and around the world," Feingold said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, has joined House Transportation Committee James Oberstar of Minnesota in asking the White House to prioritize a network of high speed rail lines through the Midwest, particularly a line connecting Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison.
The proposals are among 278 projects filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation by 40 states seeking part of the $8 billion allocated for rail in the federal stimulus bill earlier this year.
"Construction of a modern, efficient transportation system will bring much needed jobs to our area while reducing travel times, lessening highway congestion, and increasing mobility," Baldwin said in a statement. "It also will provide significant economic development opportunities for communities in Wisconsin hard-hit by the recession."
Baldwin and Oberstar also pushed for Chicago to be linked to St. Louis and Detroit in their letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. They note that the governors of eight Midwestern states and Mayor Daley of Chicago have endorsed the plan, adding that the rail lines could boost Chicago's application for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
The House passed the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009 this afternoon by a 253-171 vote, approving the reform of the student lending industry championed by U.S. Rep. Tom Petri for the majority of his 30 years in Congress.
The Fond du Lac Republican says he's advocated for the proposal, which would drop the Federal Family Education Loan program in favor of the Direct Loan program, since 1983.
Petri said the Direct Loan, which lends directly from the Treasury to college students, would be considerably more efficient for both students and taxpayers.
He told his colleagues yesterday that the FFEL system of government-subsidized loans from private lenders means that "the profits are private but the losses are socialized."
"Over the years, FFEL has proven to be fraught with scandal and an unreliable source of funds, and it costs billions of dollars more for the taxpayers," Petri in prepared remarks on the House floor.
The Wisconsin delegation splt 5-2 for the proposal, with Petri's fellow Republicans Jim Sensenbrenner and Paul Ryan voting against the bill. U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Appleton, issued a statement commending Petri's work and arguing the bill would "make college education more affordable while helping to manage our deficit."
Madison businessman Winslow Sargeant's nomination as Small Business Administration Counsel was approved Wednesday by the U.S. Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.
He now faces a confirmation vote before the full Senate.
Committee chairwoman Mary Landrieu, D-La., called Sargeant "uniquely qualified" to serve as counsel despite his non-legal background. Sargeant holds an electrical engineering doctorate from UW-Madison and serves as the managing director of investment firm Venture Investors.
"There is no statutory requirement that the Chief Counsel be an attorney," Landrieu said in a statement. "Rather the Chief Counsel is an advocate for small businesses in the regulatory process and an important source of research on small business and that is exactly what Dr. Sargeant will be."
Landrieu noted that Sargeant has bipartisan support, including the endorsement of President Bush's last two SBA counselors.
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Madison is one of three House Democrats to author the Respect for Marriage Act of 2009, which was introduced with more than 90 House co-sponsors today.
The bill, also offered by Reps. Jerrold Nadler of New York and Jared Polis of Colorado, would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. It would not, however, mandate that states recognize legally married gay couples from other states.
Baldwin and Polis are two of the House's three openly gay representatives. The other, Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, is not an initial co-sponsor of the bill.
The National Farmers Union has presented its annual Golden Triangle Awards for farmer and rancher advocacy to 63 Members of Congress, including four Democratic members of the Wisconsin delegation.
U.S. Sens. Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, along with U.S. Reps. Dave Obey and Steve Kagen, are this year's Wisconsin recipients.
"As a senator from America's Dairyland, I often hear from farmers and rural Americans of the hardships they are facing during this economic downturn," Feingold said in a statement. "I will continue to work to support Wisconsin's farmers and rural communities, which are the foundation to our state."
The U.S. Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee is expected to vote Wednesday on a slate of presidential nominees to federal positions, including Winslow Sargeant, the Madison businessman nominated by President Barack Obama to be counsel for the Small Business Association.
If Sargeant is confirmed by the committee, his nomination would move to the floor for a vote by the full Senate. Senate sources are not expecting Sergent's nomination to generate heavy opposition -- if any at all.
Sergent holds a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin.
Time Warner has pulled a DNC ad going after GOP Rep. Paul Ryan that claims he and fellow Republicans voted to abolish Medicare.
RNC chief counsel John Phillippe Jr. wrote in a letter to Time Warner's Maryland office that the spot has been debunked by several independent analysts. The claims in the spot include that Republican leaders want to kill Medicare and that Republicans want to end the program.
"While the DNC certainly has a legitimate First Amendment right to participate in political debate, it has no right to knowingly and willfully spread false information in a deliberate attempt to mislead senior citizens," Phillippe wrote.
A Time Warner spokeswoman in Milwaukee confirmed the spot had been pulled by midnight Friday.
DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse said in a statement the ad "is true and we stand by it." He said the party has spoken with Time Warner, and the spot will be back up as early as Wednesday with some "semantic modifications."
"We thank the Republicans for drawing more attention to their decades long disdain for Medicare and other programs of importance to seniors," Woodhouse said.
U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Milwaukee, joined a group of 17 senators late Thursday afternoon for a meeting on health care reform with President Obama at the White House.
The meeting came on the heels of Obama's address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday evening as the president continues his effort to bring skeptical Democrats on board with his health care reform plans.
Many of the senators who participated in the meeting are part of a working group of centrist Democrats led by U.S. Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Tom Carper of Delaware and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. A main obstacle to Obama's goal of getting a health care reform bill through Congress has been the resistance of conservative and moderate Democrats.
Following the meeting, Kohl released a statement saying that more attention needs to be paid to the cost of health care reform, suggesting the president has more work to do before skeptical Democrats offer full-throated support for his plan.
"We all understand that we want to move toward universal coverage, but I don't think we're focusing enough on costs," Kohl said. "Insurance premiums are going up and up and up. This is not sustainable. We need to do a better job of conveying to the American people what we're going to do to reduce costs -- not just to contain costs, but reduce costs -- and still maintain quality health care, which is totally doable."
U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold has been tapped as one of the "most eligible singles" in Washington, D.C. by The Politico.
The Middleton Democrat, who has been previously married twice, is one of 20 D.C.-based politicians, staffers, and media contributors listed in the article.
"This Wisconsin senator may be known as one loyal liberal, but he's no Birkenstock-wearing crunchie," reporter Patrick Gavin writes. "A sharp dresser with a snazzy grin, he can make like-minded women swoon during his impassioned speeches on the left's cause du jour."
U.S. Rep. Ron Kind praised President Obama's speech on health care reform Wednesday night, seconding the president's insistence that an overhaul of the nation's system cannot add "a nickel to our national debt."
Kind, D-La Crosse, told reporters in a conference call after the speech that the country spends $680 billion on care and treatment that doesn't work, giving reformers one area to look for savings that could pack for the package.
"The problem we've had in the health care system, not just in Medicare but in private insurance, is the dollars flow to the volume of care given, regardless of whether it helps patients," Kind said.
Obama delivered his speech to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night in an effort to take back control of the health care debate that raged across the country during the August recess. He also sought to dispel several arguments raised by Republicans against the plan that he said were distortions.
But U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, said in a statement after the speech that the president was guilty of misinformation himself during the speech.
The president said nothing in the plan would require someone's employer to change coverage, but Sensenbrenner insisted companies would switch to the public option to cover their employees because it would be more cost effective for them. He also said Dems have proposed cuts to Medicare despite the president's promises to protect the program and that it was disingenuous for him to say illegal immigrants would not be covered by the reforms since current law requires emergency rooms to treat all patients who walk through the door.
"It is therefore up to the President to fulfill his promise," Sensenbrenner said in a statement.
U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl said in a statement after the speech that the president was correct in saying it is time to move forward with health care reform.
"As we do so, it is crucial that we begin to move toward universal coverage -- but it is also equally important that we address the out-of-control health care costs which affect every American family, every business, as well as our government," Kohl, D-Milwaukee, said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, said in a statement that Americans don't need yet another speech from the president but "patient-centered, fiscally-responsible reform." He said Dems, Republicans and independents continue to offer alternatives to what's now before Congress that would provide universal health care without the federal government taking it over.
"If President Obama is sincere in asking for better ideas -- ideas that can garner bipartisan support -- he must be willing to consider them," Ryan said.
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, said in a statement the president's speech should reassure those unsure about reform or have doubts about the goals.
"I was heartened by the President's resolve to confront the lies being spread by those who oppose all efforts at reform. And I share his unequivocal commitment to finally ensure quality, affordable health care coverage for all Americans," Baldwin said. "In his words and his tone, President Obama reminded us why we elected him and what we can achieve when we work together toward a common goal."
Following the Supreme Court's re-hearing of oral arguments in Citizens United v. FEC, U.S. Sens. Russ Feingold and John McCain issued a statement reiterating that their landmark campaign finance reform bill would remain largely unchanged by any Supreme Court ruling on the case.
The case -- which weighs the use of the Citizens United-produced documentary "Hillary: The Movie" as political communication -- could dramatically change the ability of corporations and unions to spend money on political campaigns.
The two senators say that the case does not concern the ban on so-called "soft money," which they argue is the heart of their eponymous legislation. But they also note that a ruling overturning limits on corporate contributions "could have serious consequences for our democracy."
"Those able to spend tens of millions of dollars, like a Fortune 500 company, are much more likely to be heard during an election than average American voters," the statement reads.
U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner's Hybrid Truck Act passed the House unanimously Wednesday, the Menomonee Falls Republican said in a statement.
The bill would fund research and development grants for the development of hybrid trucks, which Sensenbrenner says could reduce oil usage by some 1 million barrels if implemented in just 10,000 trucks.
The bill also passed the House last year but did not receive a vote in the Senate.
"I am hopeful that Senator Kohl, who is an original bill co-sponsor, will move the legislation through the Senate with similar success, so the President is able to sign this important legislation into law," Sensenbrenner said.
U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen said this morning that he supports a public health insurance option as one method of achieving transparency in the medical marketplace, but said he's willing to consider other options to drive down costs in a final health care reform bill.
"The name of the game really is to fix what's broken and keep what we already have," Kagen said in a teleconference with Wisconsin reporters. "That is our common goal."
Kagen said he still supports a public option -- what he called "America's Choice" -- as a method for driving down costs through increased transparency. But he stressed that no specific plan for a public option has been put down in writing yet, and that "the devil's always in the details."
As President Obama prepares to address a joint session of Congress on health care tonight, the Appleton Democrat said he hopes the president's speech will incorporate his concerns as a physician of 33 years, as well as "all of the issues that I heard in Northeast Wisconsin during the August work period." Kagen's health care town halls were among the most contentious in the state, with his chaotic initial appearance in Green Bay generating national headlines.
Kagen said he's working to keep items with broad public support in the legislation, including price transparency, eliminating pre-existing conditions, and creating a standard health coverage plan for every insurer. Kagen also said he hopes Obama will address personal responsibility, citing obesity and smoking as major factors in American health care costs.
Kagen said he hasn't reviewed the president's speech yet, but said he has been in contact with the White House regarding his ideas for what to include in a bill. Among those are tort reform and an end to the anti-trust exemption for insurance companies.
"They can discuss prices and manipulate markets like baseball teams can," Kagen said of current insurance policy.
Regardless of what Obama says tonight, the longtime allergist said reform must get done this time around.
"The White House has said we're in the 8th inning," Kagen said. "I'm more optimistic. I think we're in about the 6th inning."
The Democratic National Committee has put U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan in the crosshairs of its latest TV ad.
The spot says Ryan "voted to abolish Medicare" in an April 2009 vote, and says "Republicans have opposed Medicare from the start."
Another 30-second spot, titled "Republicans Want to End Medicare," features a still photo of the Janesville Republican alongside a photo of House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, in the ad's first frame. Ryan is also shown near the end of the spot during a slide show of other prominent Republicans, from RNC chair Michael Steele to former Speaker Newt Gingrich to former President George W. Bush.
"The plain truth is Republicans have opposed Medicare from the start," an announcer says in the ad. "Their leaders have called for cutting Medicare and now for killing it."
The Dem ad, however, has been already condemned by FactCheck.org as "not true." The nonpartisan watchdog group reports that the vote used to justify the ad's claims "was not a straight up-or-down vote on the existence of Medicare."
U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Middleton, and U.S. Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., have written a new column urging support for their proposed amendment requiring direct election of senators, regardless of how the vacancy occurs.
With the death of Ted Kennedy and the possible resignation of Kay Bailey Hutchison to run for Texas governor, the country is on the verge of more than one-fourth of its citizens being represented by a senator who was not elected.
"Contrast that with the vigorous debate going on in our states and districts about important issues such as health care reform. Citizens are more engaged than ever, yet they are repeatedly being barred from electing the senators who will vote on the issues they care about most," the two write.
The column, written for Politico, noted the allegations that former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich sold a Senate appointment. They also point to Gov. Charlie Crist's decision to appoint his own chief of staff to fill a Senate seat in Florida for that he's running for in 2010 and the possibility Gov. Rick Perry could fill the Senate seat in Texas that could be vacated by Hutchison, the woman trying to replace him as the state's chief executive.
"Both of these situations raise serious questions about conflict of interest," they write.
They also note Massachusetts changed its law five years ago to take away the governor's power to appoint a replacement for Kennedy. Some have argued the wait for that to happen -- the election is in January -- is too long.
But Feingold and Dreier argue in the piece the answer is to have a shorter wait for the election, not to allow the governor to make an appointment.
As the debate over who should govern Milwaukee Public Schools intensifies, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore wants to make sure the district's governance structure won't disqualify the city from millions in federal "Race to the Top" funding for schools.
The Milwaukee Democrat wrote a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan this week to clarify the city's standing under the program. Moore said that Mayor Tom Barrett and Gov. Jim Doyle -- both of whom support a mayoral takeover -- believe the proposed system is a prerequisite for Milwaukee to claim "Race to the Top" funding.
"Responding to my query regarding requirements for governance of school boards, you unequivocally stated that mayoral control of the school board is not a prerequisite to compete for Race to the Top funds," Moore wrote this week, referring to a meeting with Duncan in July.
She added that the funding was meant to tackle many of the systemic problems within MPS, which will continue in the near term regardless of who oversees the district.
Moore says she's seen no evidence to indicate that changing how MPS is governed will improve the district's performance, adding that she prefers a "comprehensive approach to tackling the obstacles facing MPS students."
Moore will join with MPS Board President Michael Bonds and other anti-takeover advocates Tuesday in a press conference at her Milwaukee office.
Four Wisconsin lawmakers landed on The Hill's list of the 50 wealthiest members of Congress.
The Hill based the rankings on annual financial disclosure forms listing the assets and liabilities as of the end of 2008. Because lawmakers are not required to list exact values but can report their assets and liabilities in ranges, The Hill says the "dollar numbers in the list are best guesses rather than precise figures."
U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, at number 26 is the highest ranked member from Wisconsin, with an estimated net worth of $9.3 million. U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Appleton, is listed at 31, with an estimated net worth of $7.1 million.
U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Milwaukee, is 48th. His net worth is estimated by the publication to be $5.6 million. U.S. Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac, is ranked 49th, with an estimated net worth of $5.1 million.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., tops the list with an estimated net worth of $167.8 million. Right behind is U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., with an estimated net worth of $164.7 million.
U.S. Rep. Ron Kind said the fact he hasn't been part of the political process in Madison could be a strength for his potential guv run.
The western Wisconsin Dem also told WisPolitics today that his experience in Washington, D.C., working on education, health care reform, economic development and sustainable agriculture also give his potential candidacy an edge. Making Wisconsin more competitive in the global economy would be a focus of his campaign, including training programs and assistance to business to create a more welcoming environment.
"Having a fresh perspective, a fresh pair of eyes taking a look at some of these issues can be very, very helpful I think in many instances," he said.
Kind, of La Crosse, was in Madison today to meet with union officials and business and community leaders as he weighs a run. The La Crosse Democrat said Gov. Jim Doyle's decision not to run gives candidates the chance to run a "look forward campaign, not a look back campaign. A campaign that's truly about the future of Wisconsin."
He said he's received an outpouring from across the state from people wanting him to run, and while he doesn't have a timeline, he'll decide "as quickly as possible."
"Understanding that time isn't an ally when you talk about a statewide organization especially in the other parts of the state that don't know me that well," Kind said.