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Thursday, April 26, 2012

 5:16 PM 

Kohl, Johnson split on Violence Against Women Act

The Senate voted Thursday to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act 68-31, with Wisconsin's senators splitting on the measure.

U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Milwaukee, voted in favor of the act, which expired last year, saying the bill includes a number of his efforts to curb abuse of the elderly.

“This reauthorizing legislation builds upon proven prevention and support strategies and includes new provisions to address the changing and still unmet needs of victims,” Kohl said in a statement.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, however, voted against the bill. The Oshkosh Republican criticized a number of GOP alternatives shot down by Dems and said in a statement that debate on the bill "was completely politicized by the Senate Democratic leadership."


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

 9:50 AM 

Ribble signs onto letter seeking to ease earmark restrictions

U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble of Sherwood is among 65 House GOP freshmen asking their caucus' leadership to support a tariff bill despite current restrictions on earmarks in the Republican-controlled House.

U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., authored the letter to Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor Friday in support of the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill, saying in a statement that it would protect more than 600 exemptions on duties set to expire at the end of the year.

“The MTB has been an important tool for making American manufacturing more competitive for 30 years by suspending import taxes on necessary manufacturing inputs not available in this country," Reed wrote in the letter.

But a report in Politico says the bill would violate the chamber's earmark ban, and that spending critics in the GOP caucus are likely to oppose such an exception for tariffs. Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., however, is among the Republicans who argue that tariffs never should have been included in the earmark ban.

Ribble spokeswoman Ashley Olson said the Sherwood Republican supports the House earmark rule and would work to ensure that any tariff suspensions do not violate the ban.

"Many of the raw products that manufacturers need for production are not available domestically, so suspending tariffs would reduce many costs across the board," Olson said. "The tariff suspensions included in the broader MTB are available to every U.S. manufacturer, plus the small businesses, distributors and consumers that help move or sell the particular end-product."

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee alleged that Ribble had broken his promise by pushing "for these taxpayer-funded earmarks."

Ribble's fellow Wisconsin freshman Republican, Sean Duffy of Weston, did not sign onto Reed's letter.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

 11:05 AM 

Treasury Department rules resolve Wis. pension issue

The U.S. Treasury Department will likely implement new rules that would allow states like Wisconsin to keep their lower retirement age for police and firefighters, according to a notice the agency released today.

The Democratic congressional delegation had asked Treasury to consider amending pension rules to allow Wisconsin to retain its existing retirement age of 53 or 54 for public safety employees. While the initial rules under consideration made an exemption for those pension funds, the exemption only counted if the fund was comprised of mostly public safety employees.

Because Wisconsin's pension fund lumps all public employees together, some feared police and fire would become subject to the higher retirement age.

New guidance released today would allow Wisconsin to maintain its own retirement age for public safety employees as long as the age is above 50.

Dems applauded the announcement.

“The Treasury Department has listened and done right by Wisconsin’s police officers and fire fighters,” said Rep. Tammy Baldwin. “We owe it to our public safety officers and their families to ensure a fair retirement that honors the dangers they face at work.”


Thursday, April 12, 2012

 8:23 PM 

Report: Johnson close to overhauling Senate staff

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson's Senate staff appears likely to be almost entirely replaced as the freshman Republican from Oshkosh turns to a messaging role ahead of the presidential campaign, according to a report from D.C. newspaper Roll Call.

Johnson's office denied that a purge was forthcoming, and the senator had noted that his office has seen relatively little turnover, with only his legislative director departing over the last 15 months.

GOP sources, however, told the paper that Johnson's frustration with his current staff has escalated of late. The sources also said that the senator has not reached out to his colleagues over his first months in D.C., and that his policy goals have suffered as a result.

“It’s kind of like watching a temper tantrum by a 2-year-old in the middle of the grocery store," one GOP aide told Roll Call.

UPDATE: Johnson spokesman Brian Faughnan tells the Washington Post that the "story is categorically untrue," and that no widespread staff turnover is imminent.

Faughnan said the report was based on allegations from "unnamed sources reporting second and third-hand rumors.” He added that Johnson is "proud of the relationships he has built with his Senate colleagues," pointing to his bid for a leadership post in the Senate GOP conference late last year.

Johnson lost the race for caucus vice chair to Roy Blunt of Missouri.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

 10:51 AM 

Ryan raps 'Buffett Rule' as mere talking point

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan says the so-called “Buffett Rule,” championed by Democrats and President Barack Obama, is a rhetorical and political device.

“It sounds like a great talking point,” the Janesville Republican told a WisPolitics.com luncheon in Milwaukee yesterday.

Ryan said the proposal to tax the very wealthy at a higher rate would hurt small businesses without having as much impact on the deficit as Democrats suggest.

“The Buffett Rule pays for 6 percent of the president’s proposed deficit spending,” Ryan said. “So it's a tax increase that just goes into deficit spending.”

Ryan stressed that the category targeted by the “Buffett Rule” includes more than just the Oracle of Omaha.

“You’ve got to remember it's not just people like Warren Buffett, or the hedge fund manager or the baseball player or the movie star. Most of the incomes in that category are successful small businesses,” Ryan said.

According to the congressman, 65 percent of net new jobs come from small businesses and more than half of Americans work for small businesses.

“When we go down that path of raising their tax rates above their competitors, we’re making it that much harder for them to succeed and compete in the global economy,” Ryan said.

Instead, Ryan suggested ending subsidies and loopholes.

“Why would we subsidize Warren Buffett’s health care and pension benefits as much as everybody else?” Ryan asked. “Whether its farm programs or Medicare, let’s income adjust or means test our programs. You can save far more money for deficit reduction that way without committing economic damage to our tax system by taxing our successful small businesses at much higher rates then our foreign competitors.”

To see the WisPolitics.com luncheon in Milwaukee with Ryan, go to channel 411 on Time Warner cable starting Wednesday.


Monday, April 9, 2012

 2:46 PM 

Baldwin calls for House vote on 'Buffett Rule'

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin today called on House leadership to allow a vote on a measure to increase the tax rate for high-income earners as the Senate prepares for a vote on the so-called "Buffett Rule."

"The American people deserve to know where their representatives stand on tax fairness," the Madison Democrat said this afternoon in a conference call organized by the Obama campaign.

Baldwin said it would require shared sacrifice to bolster the national economy in the wake of the recent recession, listing education and health-related programs that could benefit from revenue generated by the proposal named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

"Middle class families are taking it on the chin right now," Baldwin said. "And they don't see others doing their fair share."

In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Baldwin wrote that a vote on the bill would be a "first step in strengthening our middle class and rebuilding our economy."

Baldwin and U.S. Sen. Dick Dubin, D-Ill., also took shots at GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney on the call, charging that the Buffett Rule bill would fix the "gross inequality" in the House GOP budget endorsed by the former Massachusetts governor.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee fired back against the proposal in a statement, saying Baldwin "hasn't met a tax increase she didn't like."


Thursday, April 5, 2012

 11:28 AM 

Congressional Dems want to block federal rules on state pension fund

Wisconsin’s Democratic congressional delegation is making a renewed push to shield the state employee pension fund from new Treasury rules they fear could force mass retirements by police and firefighters.

A new federal treasury rule that would be implemented by Jan. 2013 is expected to set a new retirement age for state employees somewhere between 55 and 62. However, state public safety employees currently have a retirement age of 53 or 54.

While an exemption would allow public safety employees to have a retirement age as low as 50, it only counts if the pension fund in question is mostly comprised of public safety employees. Because the Wisconsin Retirement System lumps all public workers together in the fund, the retirement age for firefighters and police officers would likely have to be raised.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin and Sen. Herb Kohl sent another letter last week to the Treasury Sec. Timothy Geithner requesting the rules be finalized soon to prevent mass retirements. They had asked for clarification early last year on the new rule.

“They would rather secure their earned benefits rather than risk a change to their retirement plan or their health and safety for several additional years,” the letter said. “Without clarification, communities would needlessly lose well-trained public servants in large numbers, which would threaten public safety.”

In addition, Rep. Ron Kind included a provision in his Small Business Pension bill, which was introduced last November, that would allow state pension plans to use their own retirement age, as long as it was based on years of service or years attained.

The Treasury Department acknowledged the issue in a letter last May, saying it was trying to address those concerns in a prompt manner to give the state enough time for legislative action on its end.

See the letter from Baldwin and Kohl:
http://wispolitics.com/1006/LAB_Wisconsin_Public_Safety_Officer_Letter_to_Treasury_3.27.12.pdf

See the Kind bill:
http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112hr3561ih/pdf/BILLS-112hr3561ih.pdf

See the May Treasury letter:
http://wispolitics.com/1006/TreasuryResponseLetter__1_.pdf


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

 1:24 PM 

Obama, Ryan spar over House GOP budget

President Barack Obama today offered a blistering critique of the House GOP budget proposal passed last week, prompting the plan's author -- U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Janesville -- to accuse the president of ducking and running from the nation's fiscal problems.

"Like his reckless budgets, today’s speech by President Obama is as revealing as it is disappointing," Ryan said in a statement after the president's address to the Associated Press' annual convention in Washington. "While others lead by offering real solutions, he has chosen to distort the truth and divide Americans in order to distract from his failed record."

The House Budget chairman also accused the president of refusing to either take responsibility for the economy or "offer a credible plan to address the most predictable economic crisis in our history."

In his speech, Obama called Ryan's proposal a "Trojan Horse" for a series of radical changes to the country, and derided GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney for supporting it.

"It is thinly veiled Social Darwinism," Obama said. "It's antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everybody who's willing to work for it."


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