When Reince Priebus assumed the reins of the Republican National Committee in January of 2011, the organization was in such financial shambles that its two credit cards had been suspended and the new chairman was forced to run all RNC travel through his personal accounts.
Those challenges are now far in the rear view mirror, with Priebus having restored the RNC’s fundraising luster and cleaned up the committee’s day-to-day operations. But in the wake of President Barack Obama’s re-election and the loss of two GOP-held U.S. Senate seats, Priebus heads toward a second term as committee chairman with a full plate of new problems to solve as he seeks to put the Republican Party in a position to be successful in the 2013 off-year elections, the 2014 midterms and the 2016 presidential contest.
In wide-ranging interview on Dec. 19 with WisPolitics.com, Priebus discussed life in Washington, D.C., 800 miles away from his beloved hometown of Kenosha, as well as how his rise through the ranks of Wisconsin Republican politics has informed his stewardship of the RNC. The Wisconsin experience will influence the decisions he makes as he moves to restore the GOP brand, broaden the party’s appeal nationally and overhaul its outdated voter turnout operation -- assuming he wins re-election to another term as RNC chair next month.
“People want to be inspired,” Priebus said, noting the success of Gov. Scott Walker and Congressman Paul Ryan of Janesville.
In Republicans like Ryan and Walker, “you see the facts, you see inspiration, hope, heart and the authenticity that people can read,” Priebus said. “That’s the formula all over America for Republicans and conservatives; that’s what we need to duplicate all over America. We’re good at facts and we’re good at economic issues facing America. But one of the things we need to be better at is, we need to be inspiring people and we need to use our heart and our head in combination with each other. And I think that’s the future for our party.”
U.S. Rep.-elect Mark Pocan today announced his appointment to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
“During my tenure on the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance, I have always taken very seriously my obligation to my constituents to ensure their government is effective and efficient, and their tax dollars are well spent,” Pocan, D-Madison, said in a statement. “I am delighted to have the same opportunity at the federal level to hold government accountable and fight for real government reform.”
Republicans Jim Sensenbrenner and Reid Ribble joined the Dem members of Wisconsin's House delegation in voting against a Defense authorization bill that passed the House last night.
U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, criticized the measure, saying lawmakers should be able to support funding for the nation's troops "and still be fiscally responsible with our defense budget."
"The bill spends $1.7 billion more than the President’s request and allocates money for programs that the Pentagon doesn’t need and hasn’t requested," Kind said.
U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, a supporter of the bill along with the state's other two GOP House members, lauded a pair of his provisions in the bill -- including a measure to provide reimbursement for troops' unpaid vacation time.
"This is a simple matter of giving our troops what they are clearly owed," the Fond du Lac Republican said. "They are putting their lives on the line overseas, and they deserve to have us fix this."
The House was also scheduled to vote on a proposal from GOP leadership to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff," but that measure was pulled to due a lack of support from the Republican caucus, according to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner will stay on as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations during the next session, his office announced today.
"There is more work to be done," the longtime Menomonee Falls Republican said in a statement. "This Subcommittee is central to enacting policies that keep our country safe from terrorist attacks and in conducting effective oversight of the Administration."
Sensenbrenner had originally sought to chair the House Science Committee, a post that instead went to Lamar Smith of Texas.
U.S. Rep. Ron Kind today partnered with two fellow Midwestern Democrats in asking the president and House leaders to seek additional savings in health care during ongoing negotiations to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff."
In a letter to President Obama, Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Kind -- along with U.S. Reps. Bruce Braley of Iowa and Betty McCollum of Minnesota -- requests they "build on delivery system reforms and find further efficiencies through incentivizing the value of care provided instead of the volume of care."
"We believe it’s possible to continue reducing health care costs and improve quality by further changing how we pay for health care," the letter continues. "We again urge you to further expand value based payments to incentivize higher-quality, lower-cost care as part of any agreement reached to eliminate or delay the fiscal cliff."
A bipartisan group totaling 20 members signed the letter, including fellow Dem Gwen Moore of Milwaukee and Wisconsin Republicans Sean Duffy of Weston, Tom Petri of Fond du Lac, Reid Ribble of Sherwood and Jim Sensenbrenner of Menomonee Falls.
“Health care is the largest and fastest growing area of spending in the federal budget,” Kind said in a statement. “To find savings we have to go where the money is. That means building off of the reforms in the Affordable Care Act that transition our health care system from fee-for-service to one that provides better care at a better cost."
State Health Secretary Dennis Smith told the House Energy and Commerce Committee's health subcommittee today that the feds' plans to expand Medicaid could place a serious financial burden on the state and once again defended the idea of giving states the flexibility to manage Medicaid funding as they see fit.
Smith, a former head of the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services under the Bush administration, repeated many of the comments he made yesterday in a conference call with Wisconsin reporters, saying the cost of adding new enrollees to the state's Medicaid program would not be offset by savings that could be achieved under expansion of Medicaid.
He also defended the idea of giving states Medicaid funding through block grants, saying that the State Children's Health Insurance Program was one of the success stories that proved such a plan could work.
"First off all, more than half of Medicaid dollars are spent because states have expanded beyond federal requirements," Smith said. "We've added eligibility, we've added benefits well beyond what the federal law expands. So again, sort of the perspective that if the federal government doesn't require it the states aren't going to do it, the history is actually the opposite."
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, took her time during the hearing to express disappointment at Wisconsin's refusal to set up a health care exchange and encouraged Smith to participate in Medicaid expansion.
"If it is uncertainty that we are concerned about, surely those 200,000 people people in Wisconsin deserve the certainty of knowing that quality and affordable care will be there for them," Baldwin said.
Smith told Baldwin that Walker would decide on whether to decide to participate in the expansion once he releases his budget.
The office at the end of the hall on the third floor in the Hart Senate Office Building appears to be running at full speed. There are no visible boxes or other signs of an impending move.
The Mickey Leland Hunger Award and the Rural Water Star Award are on full display in the waiting area, as are pictures scenes from rural Wisconsin. A favorite 2006 photo in his private office shows Kohl alongside then Sen. Barack Obama and Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
In three weeks, they will all be gone.
"We've stopped ordering office supplies" laughs Lynn Becker, the long-time press secretary for the senator known to many simply as "Herb."
Today, 77-year-old Herbert H. Kohl, the son of immigrants, the businessman, the sports fan, the NBA team owner, and the philanthropist, gave his farewell speech to the place he has worked since before the Berlin Wall came down.
But in a town filled with fancy showboats who love microphones and cameras, the diminutive, plainly dressed Kohl stood out for being the opposite.
"He almost always turned down the chance to do the talk shows," recalled Ted Bornstein, who served as Kohl's chief of staff in the '90s.
Outgoing U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl took five minutes to say goodbye to his colleagues on the U.S. Senate floor today, saying that serving the people of Wisconsin was the "greatest honor" of his life.
He thanked the people of Wisconsin for their faith in him and allowing him to "pay back" the state for the opportunities given to his immigrant mother and father that allowed his family to "grow and thrive."
"Thank you for taking a chance on me in that first election 24 years ago and renewing my contract three more times," Kohl said.
Kohl's remarks were fairly brief, with the four-term U.S. Senator saying he wished he could deliver a farewell with the "eloquence" of former colleague and U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers, the "breadth of vision" of the late U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd or the "fire" of the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy.
"What a privilege it has been to serve with these men and so many other men and women who have made up this body over the last 24 years," Kohl said. "You have been friends, advisors, sometimes adversaries – always worthy -- and inspirations."
Kohl also thanked his staffers and said that "you cannot be a cynic" about the future of the nation "when you work in an office like mine" with such "civic-minded" staffers.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee today announced it has started running robocalls in the northern 7th Congressional District charging that U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy "is holding the middle class hostage to get more reckless, budget-busting tax cuts for millionaires."
"Did you know Congressman Sean Duffy could make sure Congress votes to extend tax cuts for the middle class and avoids the fiscal cliff, but he refuses?" a DCCC caller asks, according to a transcript. The call adds that without a deal, "the average middle class family will be stuck with a crushing $2,200 tax hike," urging listeners to demand a vote on tax cuts for the middle class.
Duffy, R-Weston, was included on the DCCC's list of "hostage takers" in an announcement last week urging 40 GOP lawmakers to join 178 members that have signed a petition and force a vote on a tax cut plan backed by Dems that would exclude top earners.
Ryan, the House Budget chairman and the party's vice presidential candidate in last month's election, defended Monday's House GOP deficit reduction proposal as a "move to the middle," saying it increased revenues by $800 billion by eliminating loopholes for wealthy taxpayers.
The White House rejected that proposal yesterday, charging in a statement that the plan "includes nothing new and provides no details on which deductions they would eliminate, which loopholes they will close or which Medicare savings they would achieve."
Ryan countered President Obama is instead calling for "even higher taxes ... and no net spending cuts at call," charging that, "He won't even come to an agreement on the parameters of an agreement."
And he said the president's initial proposal leads Republicans to conclude he is moving toward going over the fiscal cliff.
"What I think he would like to do is to be able to let this happen, and then try to blame other people," Ryan charged.