PORTAGE -- U.S. Rep. Tom Petri says he believes there's a growing sense that congressional Republicans won't try to "hold our breath" in an effort to stifle the upcoming implementation of Obamacare.
As some in his party advocate shutting down the federal government to withhold funding for the Affordable Care Act, Petri, R-Fond du Lac, told WisPolitics.com yesterday following the first of 12 town meetings during the August recess that the issue is "a question of tactics, not of goals."
He said his experience during the government shutdown under then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the 1990s showed that as a practical matter, "you can't really shut the whole government down."
"You're basically highlighting (the president's) authority to make you look bad," Petri said.
He also suggested that similar moves backfired on Dems in Wisconsin during the height of the debate over Act 10, when Senate Dems left the state in early 2011 to hold up a vote on the collective bargaining bill in that chamber.
Petri fielded a series of questions about the Affordable Care Act at the Columbia County Law Enforcement Center, though they came from supporters of the bill.
One man, who identified himself as originally hailing from the Czech Republic, asked what was wrong with the legislation given the high costs of otherwise mundane medical procedures.
Petri responded that reimbursement rates for Medicare and Medicaid have led to rising costs from providers, and that while Obamacare was intended to fix some of those issues, "a lot of politics was involved." He said that included an expedited vote after Republican Scott Brown won a special election for the Massachusetts Senate seat long held by Ted Kennedy.
In response to another question, Petri acknowledged voting to repeal the law 40 times in the House -- drawing applause from other attendees. He said the ACA had caused particular disruption in Wisconsin, which had one of the top percentages of those covered by health insurance leading up to passage of the law.
"In Wisconsin, before we got into all this, we were either one, two or three among the 50 states in terms of people that had health insurance," Petri said.
Of the more than a dozen attendees at the Portage meeting, others asked Petri about government spending, simplifying the tax code and repealing ethanol requirements.
Petri said the nation's fiscal picture has stabilized in the short term, saying that tax increases, a slightly improved economy and the federal sequester -- "for better or worse" -- has reduced the deficit as a percentage of the overall economy.
"You don't hear much about that because the basic problem hasn’t been solved," Petri said. He said lawmakers should begin working on longer term challenges -- such a Social Security and Medicare -- to avoid affecting those closer to utilizing those programs.
"It can be done if you can get people to calm down, if you can agree on the projections and the numbers," Petri said.
Petri also said the ethanol standard "needs to be modernized or reformed," but that lawmakers "need to be sensitive to try to phase it out in a responsible manner."
Petri also told WisPolitics.com he hasn't started thinking about the 2014 election.
"We're just doing our job," Petri said of the town hall meetings, adding, "I can't even take out nomination papers yet."
Petri is set to continue the town meetings today in Fredonia and Howards Grove.
U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner said today he will try to replace by year’s end a section of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court.
“I am committed to restoring the Voting Rights Act as an effective tool to prevent discrimination, more so subtle discrimination now than overt discrimination,” he told an RNC event to commemorate the March on Washington.
The Supreme Court earlier this year invalidated a section of the law that gave the federal government oversight of electoral changes in jurisdictions and states with a history of discrimination.
Few Republicans in Washington, D.C., have expressed an interest in addressing the court’s decision. Sensenbrenner noted he helped broker a deal in 1982 to reauthorize the law and in 2006 saw a second re-authorization as chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
He said the court either ignored the thousands of pages gathered in 2006 on discrimination still occurring in some districts or thought it was too much to read. Sensenbrenner said his goal is to take out the “monkey wrench” the court threw into the Voting Rights Act and “and use it to fix it so it is alive, well, constitutional and impervious to another challenge that will be filed by the usual suspects."
“It ain’t going to be easy, but when we all are together, we shall overcome,” Sensenbrenner said.
U.S. Rep. Ron Kind told a biotech group Tuesday that Congress has to push ahead on health care, broadband and immigration reform measures to ensure the country doesn’t become a “third world nation.”
Kind, speaking to a BioForward luncheon in Madison, said given the large amount of federal spending on health care, any discussion of reducing the deficit has to find ways to further reform the nation’s health care system. Although Kind said the nation is moving in the right direction under certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act, the “holy grail” of health care reform is moving toward a “value-based” reimbursement system for health care costs rather than a fee-based system.
“If we even capture a fraction of (those savings) it will go a long way in dealing with the budget shortfalls that we have today but also the long-term liabilities that way face tomorrow,” said Kind, D-La Crosse.
Kind also said he’s working toward a repeal of a medical device tax included in the ACA, which he said could start pushing medical innovators out of the country.
Kind criticized Congress’ inability to make headway on the farm bill or immigration reform and said today’s lawmakers should adopt the determination of their predecessors. Kind harkened back to the Congress that served during the Civil War.
“That Congress, even faced with the peril that they had -- the huge deficits and the military carnage -- knew there was still important public investments that had to be made….and it is a legacy that we still feel today,” Kind said. “And I think there are certain lessons in history that it would behoove Congress to learn and to act upon.”
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, toured a Wausau health center Tuesday to tout benefits of the Affordable Care Act.
Bridge Community Health Clinic, which serves patients in primary care, dentistry and behavioral health, will expand its dental coverage as a direct result of Obamacare.
“What we’re talking about right now is how the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act is going to affect the community services that (Bridge is) providing,” Baldwin said.
Bridge won a grant out of Obamacare funds to build the dental addition, which will cost $3.38 million. It will allow the clinic to serve about 7,000 additional patients from the Wausau area, most of which are low-income and rely on Medicaid for care. Baldwin touted the accomplishment as a tangible, positive benefit of the Affordable Care Act.
“(I’m excited about) the role that Bridge Street clinic is going to play in doing outreach to folks who can now sign up for insurance in the insurance marketplace,” she said.
As for conservative threats to shut down the federal government if Obamacare isn’t defunded, Baldwin isn’t impressed.
“What we need is more certainty and more regular order rather than these wild threats to shut down government or not have government pay its bills,” she said.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin says she’s proposing legislation to create new paths for young scientific researchers through the National Institutes of Health.
Baldwin outlined plans to introduce the Next Generation Research Act at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Institutes of Medical Research in Madison. The bill would implement new policies within the NIH to promote mentorship for new researchers, improve grant application success and study barriers to entry for new researchers.
But the Madison Dem said the bill wouldn’t include any funding to offset the impact of sequestration to federal funding for scientific and medical research. she said she’is still fighting on that front to secure more funding for research.
Several researchers and administrators at the Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research raised concerns over the diversity of research and difficulty of justifying certain research tracks when congressional oversight of NIH focuses on “big picture” medical goals.
Four members of the Wisconsin congressional delegation have sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service raising concerns a required fish passage at the Prairie du Sac Hydroelectric Dam could allow Asian Carp to move upstream.
Wisconsin Power and Light, which owns the dam, is required to install a fishway and have it operational by July 1, 2015 to allow safe passage for native fish.
But U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh -- along with U.S. Reps. Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac, and Mark Pocan, D-Madison -- raised concerns that invasive species such as Asian carp and the disease viral hemorrhagic septicemia would also use the passage to move upstream.
The dam is on the Wisconsin River 90 miles upstream from its intersection with the Mississippi River. The letter notes Asian carp have been caught below the dam each of the past three years, but aren’t known to exist upstream of the facility.
“Opening a pathway for invasive species that are present below PDS to move upstream would cause significant adverse effects on the environment and surrounding watersheds,” the lawmakers wrote.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin touted her legislation to bolster funding for early-stage companies during a stop on the UW-Madison campus today, saying Wisconsin ranks near the bottom in entrepreneurship despite "some really innovative startups that are in this area."
"We've got to create a better environment for entrepreneurship in the state of Wisconsin," Baldwin, D-Madison, said prior to a meeting with officials from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and Isomark, a company founded by UW scientists that has developed technology to detect the early stages of severe infections.
She said Wisconsin has the potential to lead the nation in biomedical research and other emerging technologies despite the new state venture capital bill's exclusion of bioscience.
"I think about so much of the innovative discoveries that have happened in the state of Wisconsin that hold incredible potential -- both economic potential, but also curative potential in the biomedical field," Baldwin said. "And we have to be supporting that very robustly."
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan says there’s a better way to target Obamacare than shutting down the federal government as some of his fellow Republicans have urged.
Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” the Janesville Republican said rather than “swinging for the fences” to take out the health care law through discretionary spending, he thinks it would be more effective to delay the law to achieve the ultimate goal of replacing it.
He also said a shutdown wouldn’t impact entitlements such as Obamacare.
“We all, Republicans, want to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Ryan said. “So it's not a matter of whether or not we want to get rid of Obamacare; we do. We're having a debate about the best course of achieving that goal, the best strategy.”
Ryan also again advocated for a piecemeal approach to address immigration reform and said the House won’t take up the bill the Senate approved. The House Budget chair also rejected the argument Republicans should embrace immigration reform for political reasons.
“I disagree with the idea that we should approach this issue based on what’s right for us politically,” Ryan said. “We should approach this issue based on what’s the right thing to do, what’s the right policy.”
Ryan also discussed the NSA’s surveillance program, saying lawmakers should reauthorize it but also reform it to protect civil liberties.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson today lamented the growing division in the Republican Party and called for "unification" among libertarians and more establishment-based members of the GOP.
In an interview with WisPolitics.com before speaking to the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials, Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said, "My goal -- and this has been my goal since first being sworn in -- is to unify Republicans, to unify conservatives."
There have been several high-profile splits among national Republicans in recent weeks, including on national security issues and a call from some GOP lawmakers to oppose legislation to fund the federal government unless it defunds the federal health care law.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have also exchanged barbs on national security. Johnson termed Paul's stance as "more of an isolationist view."
“I happen to think that the U.S. is the world's superpower and that puts more certain obligations on us,” Johnson said. “If America doesn't lead, I believe the world becomes a more dangerous place.”
Asked to comment on a strategy championed by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and others to fight any legislation that would have the effect of funding Obamacare, Johnson noted, "No one wants to defund Obamacare more than I do," but expressed some reservations on the approach.
"I don't want to limit my options on these things," Johnson said. "I think most Republicans are fully supportive of what Ted Cruz's and Mike Lee's and Rand Paul's and Marco Rubio's aim in this thing is. We're totally supportive of wanting to defund it, but we just have a different opinion in terms of what is the best approach and what pledges we may or may not sign and what we'd actually do."
See more from Johnson's event in Friday's PM Update.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and three other Dem lawmakers today called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to reconsider its "outdated" policy of certain lifetime bans on blood donation.
In a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Baldwin, D-Madison, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of California and U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois write that the current ban on men who have sex with men -- or "MSM" -- is "medically and scientifically unwarranted."
The lawmakers note that HHS' advisory committee on the issue sought changes to the policy in 2010, and that the American Medical Association passed a resolution in June "opposing the current lifetime ban as discriminatory and not based on sound science." The letter adds that blood screening technology has advanced dramatically since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and that other blood donors deemed to be high-risk do not face such bans.
"Our current policies turn away healthy, willing donors, even when we face serious blood shortages," the letter states. "Further, the existing lifetime ban continues to perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes against gay and bisexual men, and fosters an atmosphere that promotes discrimination and discourages individuals from seeking HIV testing and treatment services."
A total of 82 lawmakers signed onto the letter, including Wisconsin U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, and Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin has co-authored a letter to the Obama administration asking for a specific target for cost savings under the federal health care reform law.
The senators -- Baldwin and fellow Dems Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Chuck Schumer of New York and Chris Murphy of Connecticut -- argue in the letter to Deputy Assistant to the President for Health Policy Jeanne Lambrew that setting a target "would encourage rapid and purposeful implementation of delivery system reform and in doing so, expedite the path toward a more sustainable health care system."
"Whatever the exact savings number, a clear and specific presidential target will focus federal efforts in an accountable manner that calls to 'bend the health care cost curve' will not," the letter continues. "With so many voices in Washington calling for cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, cost savings through delivery system reforms are key to preserving and strengthening these programs without hurting the middle class."
Fifteen other senators -- all Dems except Maine independent Angus King -- also signed on to the letter.
U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson announced today they have forwarded three candidates for the White House to consider in filling a long-vacant spot on the federal bench in Madison.
The senators recommended the White House consider Rock County Circuit Court Judge Michael R. Fitzpatrick, Madison attorney James D. Peterson and U.S. Attorney John W. Vaudreuil to fill the seat once held by Judge John Shabaz.
That seat has been open since early 2009, when Shabaz took senior status. He passed away last fall.
President Obama nominated former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler for the seat in 2009, but the Senate failed to act on the nomination ahead of the 2010 elections, when Johnson won his seat. Obama then resubmitted Butler’s nomination in 2011, but Johnson objected because he had not been consulted on who should fill the spot.
The vacancy now is considered a “judicial emergency” by the federal courts because of how long it has been unoccupied. Former Judge Barbara Crabb announced plans in 2009 to take senior status, but has continued to hear cases with the opening.
Dem U.S. Reps. Ron Kind of La Crosse and Mark Pocan of Madison were the only members of the Wisconsin delegation to vote against legislation to link student loan interest rates to market rates.
The House approved the bill 392-31, clearing the way for it to head to the president.
The legislation would tie student loan interest rates to the 10-year Treasury note and reverse an increase that took effect for some new loans July 1. Some Dems have complained the bill didn’t go far enough.
“This legislation will ultimately force our students to pay even higher interest rates, putting them deeper in debt,” Kind said. “That will hurt families trying to pay for college which puts America at a competitive disadvantage on the world stage.”
But U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Sherwood, praised it as a “student loan solution that reflects the market-based reforms in the original House-passed bill.”
“Students in northeastern Wisconsin deserve to know what it will cost for them to borrow money to attend college, and they deserve for college to be affordable,” Ribble said.