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Thursday, February 23, 2012

 10:21 AM 

Report: Johnson's state office among those targeted by letter, 'powdery substance'

A state office of U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, was among the targets of a threatening letter that contained a powdery substance, according to a Senate official.

The substance has initially tested negative for biological agents, but Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer told lawmakers in an email that, "Although all letters received thus far have proved harmless, it is essential that we treat every piece of suspicious mail as if it may, in fact, be harmful."

Johnson was among two Senate state offices to receive the letters; similar letters were also reportedly sent to a House member's district office and to Comedy Central hosts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert at the New York headquarters of Viacom.

A Johnson spokesman said it would not discuss the ongoing investigation at the request of the Capitol Police.


Friday, February 17, 2012

 11:54 AM 

Wis. delegation splits evenly on payroll tax extension

The Wisconsin House delegation split on a bill to extend the payroll tax holiday Friday, but not along party lines.

GOP U.S. Reps. Sean Duffy of Weston and Reid Ribble of Sherwood joined Dem colleagues Tammy Baldwin of Madison and Gwen Moore of Milwaukee in support of the bill, which would also extend unemployment benefits and avoid a cut in Medicare fees for doctors.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, joined the delegation's other three Republicans -- Tom Petri of Fond du Lac, Paul Ryan of Janesville and Jim Sensenbrenner of Menomonee Falls -- to vote against the bill. The measure passed 293-132.

“This legislation is unfunded and adds upwards of $89 billion to the deficit," Sensenbrenner said in a statement. "Our debt has reached crisis level, and we can’t continue to spend money we don’t have and borrow from foreign creditors."

The Senate passed then passed the measure 60-36, with U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Milwaukee, in support and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, in opposition.


Monday, February 13, 2012

 3:53 PM 

Ryan rips White House budget as 'failure of leadership;' Kind calls it 'a good step'

Early reviews of the president's fiscal year 2013 budget proposal are mixed from members of the Wisconsin delegation.

The White House rolled out the president's $3.8 trillion budget this morning -- a proposal that includes new funding for infrastructure and education while ending Bush administration high-income tax rates and implementing mandatory spending and entitlement program cuts.

At an event in Virginia, the president said the budget reflects "shared responsibility."

"It says that if we’re serious about investing in our future and investing in community colleges, and investing in new energy technology, and investing in basic research, well, we’ve got to pay for it," Obama said. "And that means we've got to make some choices."

But U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, blasted the budget as a "dismal failure of leadership," charging that it breaks the president's promise to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term in office.

"This budget does nothing to prevent the bankruptcy of critical programs, threatening the health and retirement security of current and future seniors. Worse, it continues the President’s policy of letting an unaccountable board of bureaucrats cut Medicare in ways that will lead to denied care for seniors," the Janesville Republican said in a statement. "The broken promises and recycled gimmicks contained in this budget have dramatically widened this President’s growing credibility deficit."

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, praised the proposal as "a good step and the start of a larger conversation the President is going to need to have with Congress and the American people about how to put our country on a long-term sustainable path."

"Smart investments in areas like education, infrastructure, manufacturing and worker training are important for economic growth," Kind said in a statement. "But we have to stay focused on rising health care costs, the major cost driver in all budgets – federal, state and local as well as for most family and business budgets."


 9:12 AM 

Ryan says GOP candidates must offer alternatives

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, said GOP presidential candidates need to present specific ideas to the public and not just simply criticize President Obama if they hope to defeat him in November.

In an appearance on “UpFront with Mike Gousha” Sunday, Ryan said being specific on the campaign trail is not only good politics, but morally the right thing to do.

“We have a moral obligation to offer the country an alternative, a very specific choice to contrast so the people of this country can decide … which path they want to take,” Ryan said on the show, produced in conjunction with WisPolitics.com.

Ryan said he doesn't expect much to get through Congress this year because Obama is in “complete campaign mode” and the Dem-run Senate is in “lockdown.”

Ryan also appeared on ABC’s “This Week” over the weekend, dismissing the president’s proposed compromise to allow religious-affiliated employers to refrain from paying for contraceptive coverage as an “accounting trick.”

Ryan noted the proposal would require the insurers those institutions pay for coverage to provide coverage of contraceptives, which he said is a “distinction without a difference.”

“They're treating our constitutional First Amendment rights as revocable privileges from our government, not as an inalienable rights from our creator,” Ryan said. “And number two, if this is what the president's willing to do in a tough election year, imagine what he will do in implementing the rest of his health care law after an election."


Friday, February 10, 2012

 11:29 AM 

Ryan, Johnson slam Obama in remarks at CPAC

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan Thursday called on Republicans to offer a "bold reform agenda" to the American people ahead of this fall's elections.

Speaking to the annual CPAC event in Washington, the Janesville Republican blasted President Obama, arguing that even if the election "is no more than a referendum on the President’s economic performance, his failed policies will spell defeat for him and his party."

But he said Republicans must also provide a mandate to the GOP nominee to "face fiscal and economic challenges that are huge -- almost unprecedented."

"Everybody knows this is politically risky territory. Republicans have their battle scars on entitlement reform. That’s why some argue that we should downplay bold agendas and simply wage a campaign focused solely on the President and his party," Ryan said, according to prepared remarks. "I firmly disagree. Boldness and clarity offer the greatest opportunity to create a winning coalition. We will not only win the next election -- we have a unique opportunity to sweep and remake the political landscape."

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, participated in a panel discussion -- titled "Why is it so hard to cut a trillion dollars?" -- at CPAC earlier in the day.

He accused the president of focusing solely on his re-election campaign by "pitting one group of Americans against another."

"I came here willing to work with anyone who is genuine in a desire to work for solutions -- to work with me in good faith to do that. This president is not one of those individuals," Johnson said, according to remarks provided by his office. "So what that tells me -- the fact that he is not working with us in good faith, just running for re-election -- that tells me that President Obama is not someone we can compromise with. President Obama is someone we must defeat."


Thursday, February 9, 2012

 11:38 AM 

Wis. delegation backs insider trading ban

The House overwhelmingly approved legislation explicitly banning insider trading by members and staff Thursday, with all eight members of the Wisconsin delegation supporting the bill.

"I believe the STOCK Act is an important first step in our fight to ban Congressional Insider Trading, and shed light on Congress’ actions," U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Weston, said in a statement. "The fight should not stop today though -- we must continue to work to strengthen this law so that we may regain America’s trust."

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, however, criticized GOP changes to the bill, which she said amounted to a "watering-down."

"At a time when people's confidence in Congress is at an all-time low, it is shameful that the Republican leadership is so blatantly kowtowing to powerful special interests," said Baldwin, D-Madison. "We should be strengthening anti-corruption measures, not weakening them."

The bill passed 417-2; only John Campbell, R-Calif., and Rob Woodall, R-Ga., voted against the measure.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

 1:44 PM 

Moore defends HHS rule requiring contraception coverage

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore joined three of her House Dem colleagues this afternoon to criticize House Speaker John Boehner's call to repeal a new federal rule requiring employer-provided insurance to cover contraception.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rule would include faith-based employers, which has sparked opposition among conservatives.

In a speech on the House floor Wednesday, Boehner, R-Ohio, charged that "the federal government is violating a First Amendment right that has stood for more than two centuries, and it is doing so in a manner that affects millions of Americans and harms some of our nation’s most vital institutions."

Moore, of Milwaukee, said the decision from the Obama administration "comes down on the side of the majority of women who want access to not only religious freedom, but freedom, period."

"We all respect and benefit from the separation of church and state," Moore said in a conference call. "I don't think that this should be construed as the ability of the church to get in its bully pulpit and separate over a million women and their families from desperately and critically needed health care."

U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., added, "It's absolutely amazing that in 2012, there is controversy over women's access to birth control."

Lois Capps of California and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut also joined the call, which was organized by liberal group Americans United For Change.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

 6:47 PM 

Congressional Dems ask Walker to lift Family Care cap

Wisconsin's congressional Democrats sent a letter to Gov. Scott Walker today urging him to lift the cap on FamilyCare enrollment by the end of February, expressing frustration that no action has been taken.

Sen. Herb Kohl and Reps. Tammy Baldwin, Ron Kind and Gwen Moore told Walker in a letter that they were concerned with "rapidly rising" number of people the waiting list for the program.

"Until you sign a bill into law that repeals the enrollment cap, thousands of eligible older adults and disabled individuals will continue to be denied Family Care services, contravening CMS' federal directive," the letter said.

The letter went on to note that the waitlist for FamilyCare grew by 1,691 people from July 2011 to November. It also said that the state stands to lose $1.75 billion in federal funding if it does not lift the cap soon.

Walker's office said in a statement that his administration still plans to lift the enrollment cap and has "plans for a better program for the members, and a financially sustainable program for our taxpayers."

"Secretary Smith and his staff at the Department of Health Services have been working with partners, advocacy groups and members to make this happen," Walker spokeswoman Julie Lund said. "They have been working with the federal government on this and have been keeping them informed of our situation. DHS has been actively enrolling eligible individuals through emergency funding that was made available in the state budget as well as utilizing slots that have opened up.”

The Senate Committee on Health expects to hold a public hearing on a bill removing the cap this Thursday, but the Assembly Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care has not yet scheduled a hearing on their version of the bill. An aide for committee chair and Rep. Dan Knodl, R-Germantown, said he wasn't sure when the bill might come up for a hearing, but that they are still trying to work out fiscal issues with the bill.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

 11:56 AM 

Kohl urges thorough review of proposed Express Scripts-Medco merger

U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl said today he believes a proposed merger between pharmaceutical benefits giants Express Scripts and Medco "presents serious competition concerns."

In a letter to Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jonathan Leibowitz, the Milwaukee Democrat wrote that the merger involves two of the nation's three largest pharmaceutical benefits managers, and that the resulting company would control about half of the nation's large health plan sponsor market.

Kohl, who chairs the Senate's antitrust subcommittee, raised concerns that the much larger company could increase prescription drug fees, negotiate exclusive distribution with pharmacies, or force patients into the company's mail order program.

He urged the FTC to only back the merger if it determines that the new company wouldn't substantially harm competition in the industry.

"The stakes for American consumers, health plan sponsors, and our nation's network of local pharmacies arising out of this transaction are very high and thus this acquisition is worthy of the most serious review at your agency," Kohl wrote.


 9:46 AM 

House backs federal pay freeze bill; Moore opposes legislation

Dem Reps. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Kind joined all five Republicans in the state’s House delegation to support GOP Rep. Sean Duffy’s legislation to extend a salary freeze for federal workers one more year.

The legislation also covers salaries for members of Congress, who have had their standard salary set at $174,000 since 2009.

Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, was the only Wisconsin member to vote against the bill.


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