• WisPolitics

Monday, September 30, 2013

 2:44 PM 

Baldwin, Johnson split as Senate rejects House budget resolution

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson once again split on a budget vote ahead of a looming federal government shutdown.

The Senate voted 54-46 along party lines this afternoon to reject the House version of a resolution designed to alleviate the shutdown, sending it back to that chamber; Baldwin voted with majority Dems, while Johnson, of Oshkosh, aligned with the GOP in the minority.

The House version, passed over the weekend, included language to delay the Affortable Care Act for one year and to repeal the Obamacare law's tax on medical device manufacturers -- both considered non-starters by both Senate Dem leaders and the White House.

Baldwin, of Madison, tweeted this morning that the House GOP is threatening to hold the economy hostage and is playing political games with "the health of women across the country."

"It's time to move on," Baldwin wrote.

The Wisconsin House delegation split along party lines on the weekend resolution, with all Republicans in favor and all Dems opposed. All eight members, however, joined a unanimous vote on a bill to ensure the military is paid if the government shuts down Tuesday.

Friday, September 27, 2013

 2:17 PM 

Baldwin, Johnson split during party-line vote on funding resolution

Wisconsin's U.S. senators today split on a resolution to continue funding the federal government that passed along party lines ahead of next week's scheduled shutdown.

The resolution, which restores funding for the Affordable Care Act that was stripped out of the House version, now heads back to that chamber after passing 54-44.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, voted for the measure, along with her Dem colleagues and Maine independent Angus King.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, was opposed, as were all other voting Republicans; two western Republicans -- Orrin Hatch of Utah and Jeff Flake of Arizona -- did not vote on the proposal.

Johnson issued a statement detailing his votes related to the funding resolution, including an initial vote "on whether to proceed to a vote on the resolution."

"I voted in favor of allowing a vote to defund Obamacare," Johnson said. "I oppose Obamacare. I want to see it repealed and replaced. That can happen only if the Senate is actually allowed to proceed to final passage of a bill that does so."

Baldwin, in a Senate floor speech on Thursday, called for an end to "the same political games offered by the House."

"Threats of a government shutdown and government default are disrespectful to the hard work of families and businesses that get up every day and through shear grit and determination have helped to move our economy forward," Baldwin said.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

 10:51 AM 

Politico's VandeHei high on Ryan, but 'something missing' with Walker for '16

Paul Ryan “could be a force” in the 2016 prez race, but Scott Walker “has something missing from the package” needed by a national candidate, Politico co-founder Jim VandeHei told a WisPolitics.com luncheon in DC last week.

The former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal reporter, however, had the most praise for Hillary Clinton and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

VandeHei said at time of weak Washington leaders, both Clinton and Christie are viewed as operating from a position of strength.

Clinton would clear the Dem field if she ran and would be well positioned to win.

“The problem (for Democrats) is if she doesn’t run, that bench gets weak quickly,” he said, though he stressed nobody is unbeatable in American politics.

Christie, who will cruise to re-election, appeals to big donors, but may have issues with GOP primary voters.

“The problem is he’s not conservative enough for conservatives,” VandeHei said.

He added Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is “going to be a player” for Republicans, while Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has faded recently.

Then he mentioned Ryan, the House Budget chair and 2012 GOP veep candidate, saying the Janesville Republican was a better-than-expected retail politician who’s taken seriously by both sides.

“If he decides to run, he has a compelling story,” VandeHei said. “If he wants to run, he could be a force.”

As to Walker, who’s up for re-election next year, he said, “I don’t think Scott Walker’s your guy in 2016.” VandeHei said Republicans should pay more attention to the states in looking for their next presidential nominee and a number of GOP governors, including Walker, have a record of achievement that will play well with voters considering the dysfunction in D.C.

Still, he said “there’s something missing from the package” with Walker. VandeHei said he couldn’t point to something specific with the guv; it was more an intuitive feel of Walker’s sense on the national stage.

“I don’t see him as the type of political athlete who can just burst out and sort of command the stage and command attention in the way he would have to,” VandeHei said.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

 9:21 AM 

Johnson seeks realistic strategy on Obamacare

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said he’s open to a realistic strategy that would lead to the defunding of Obamacare.

But he has reservations about a call from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to filibuster the House continuing resolution that includes a provision to strip out funding for the program . Johnson says that approach won’t accomplish the ultimate goal.

“How do you ever defund Obamacare if you’re not willing to take the chance to allow a piece of legislation that defunds it move toward passage?” Johnson said in an interview.

The Senate is expected to take up the House continuing resolution this week. Johnson said he’s willing to listen to Cruz to understand his strategy on a proposed filibuster. But he said the reality is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid won’t allow a vote on legislation that would defund Obamacare and the president would never sign it.

Johnson said there may be a path to some kind of compromise that would include a one-year delay for the program, though he acknowledged even that may be difficult with the dynamic in the Senate and the president’s dedication to the law.

He also said he’s laying the groundwork to challenge the administration’s decision to allow the health care costs of congressional staffers to be subsidized.

 8:09 AM 

Kind chief of staff to join lobbying firm

Erik Olson is leaving his post as U.S. Rep. Ron Kind’s chief of staff to work at Venn Strategies, a lobbying and public affairs firm, the La Crosse Dem's spokesman confirmed.

Deputy Chief of Staff Travis Robey will succeed Olson, according to an email he sent friends that was forwarded to WisPolitics.com.

Monday, September 23, 2013

 10:13 AM 

Pocan: '24 or 36 people' holding Congress hostage on budget debate

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan says there’s a “bumpy road ahead” in the push to pass a continuing resolution and avoid a government shutdown before the October 1st budgetary deadline.

“I think everyone who is responsible, Democrat and Republican, in the building doesn’t want to see that happen,” Pocan told “UpFront with Mike Gousha,” which is produced in partnership with WisPolitics.com.

The Madison Democrat said he blames Tea Party Republicans for the delay in passing a budget, citing a funding bill passed by the House of Representatives that contains provisions that would defund the Affordable Care Act.

“It’s 24 or 36 people holding all the rest of us hostage,” Pocan said. “Even the Senate Republicans are saying this is an extreme measure that doesn’t make sense.”

The Senate is expected to strip the provisions related to Obamacare from the bill. Pocan said he thinks responsible lawmakers will reject using the threat of government shutdown as incentive to keep the controversial provisions.

Pocan also rejected a proposed one-year delay in the roll out of small business and individual health care mandates. Pocan said he wants Congress to focus on implementing the ACA properly, rather than working to obstruct it.

“It’s the law of the land, and we’ve voted 41 times, I believe, to try repealing it,” Pocan said. “That’s not going to happen.”

Friday, September 20, 2013

 11:39 AM 

Wis. delegation splits on House budget resolution

Wisconsin's House delegation split along party lines today on a vote to pass a budget measure that would gut funding for federal health care reform.

The state's five GOP congressmen voted for the proposal, which passed 230-189, while the three Dems voted in opposition. The resolution is considered a non-starter in the Dem-controlled Senate as the deadline to avoid a government shutdown looms.

U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, said in a statement that it's "up to the Senate to do what the American people want and vote against the president’s abominable health care law."

"The Republican-controlled House has made its stance against Obamacare perfectly clear," Sensenbrenner said. "And today, the House again voted to defund Obamacare as part of the CR to keep the government running."

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, charged that the vote "only moves us closer to a tea-party instigated shutdown."

"This is not an issue of Democrats against Republicans -- this is an issue of responsible adults against extremists that have decided to hold the government hostage unless we allow insurance companies to deny people coverage," Pocan said in a statement.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

 9:54 AM 

Pocan, Baldwin offer domestic partner legislation

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin today announced legislation that would extend federal employee benefits to same-sex domestic partners.

Pocan and Baldwin, both openly gay Madison Democrats, are co-authors of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act in their respective chambers, with GOP members signed onto each bill. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Gerry Connolly, D-Va., have co-authored the House version, while Baldwin will offer the Senate version with Republican Susan Collins of Maine.

"We’ve made great progress for committed, same-sex couples in America but we still have work to do to move freedom and fairness forward," Baldwin said in a statement. "This bill helps provide federal employees and their domestic partners equal access and opportunity to the benefits that businesses across our country are already providing."

Pocan added that the bill would "remove discriminatory practices that punish certain federal employees merely for whom they love and where they live."

Monday, September 16, 2013

 9:15 AM 

Johnson: U.S. should work with Russia on 'shared interests' in Syria

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson says the U.S. needs to take advantage of some “shared interests” with Russia on Syria.

Appearing on CNN’s "State of the Union" yesterday, Johnson, R-Oshkosh, was again critical of President Obama's handling of Syria and said American influence in the region has been diminished while Russia’s influence has increased. Still, he said it wasn't in Russia’s interest for chemical weapons to fall into the hands of Al Qaeda.

“But again, Russia is the primary supporter of the criminal Assad regime. We feed to recognize that,” Johnson said. “But now it's the point in time I think that if -- and it's a big if -- if that framework actually could be implemented, that would be a real positive gain.”

Johnson also said he hopes the Obama administration has learned some lessons

“You don't go out and state policy like Mubarak must go or Assad must go or create red lines unless you've laid the groundwork, unless you've gotten and explained to the American public and gotten their -- certainly their support and gone around the world and assembled a coalition of the willing to back up the policy statements that you make,” he said.

Friday, September 13, 2013

 5:17 PM 

Ryan says Obama administration was slow to act on Syria

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan said today the Obama administration's strategy on Syria in the last few weeks has damaged the reputation of the United States.

"I do not think that the president has presented anything close to a good strategy," Ryan told the annual meeting of the Waukesha County Business Alliance. "It was like they were telling Congress anything they think they wanted to hear so that they would vote for this. On one side, it was going to be one small strike, not really aimed to achieve anything. On the other side it was not a pinprick, it was substantial."

The Janesville Republican said he believes the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons, but said President Obama did not act quickly enough.

"Obama had a chance to help the Free Syrian Army when it was just the Free Syrian Army against Assad. But that didn't happen," he said. "Now it is a much more involved situation between the support of Al Qaeda and the supply of chemical weapons from Russia"

During today's event, which was moderated by former Lt. Gov. Margaret Farrow, Ryan also took questions on health care, tax policy and immigration reform.

On health care reform, Ryan said the Obama administration should delay implementation of the law.

"The administration, knowing and seeing that it really wasn't ready for prime time, seeing the projections as well that millions of people are about to lose job-based health insurance, they decided they were going to lay down one huge piece of this law," said Ryan, "We call it the employer mandate. They decided to delay the mandate for big business for a year, but they decided not to delay the rest of it for everyone else; not for small businesses and for families."

He added: "We're trying to make our case to him."

On immigration, Ryan said he doesn't like the bill that is currently up in the Senate and said he didn't think it was realistic to deport millions of illegal immigrants.

"Do you think we could round up 11 or 12 million immigrants and deport them out of the country?" Ryan asked. "Do you know what kind of police state this would have to be in order to do that? If that is not viable, then what do you have to do?"

Ryan said he wants to first secure the border and create interior enforcement, and then worry about undocumented immigrants. Ryan said that once worker verification is enforced, then other triggers could be met.

He said he would focus on the following:
- Allow workers to come and go with worker verification to take pressure off of the border and allow border patrol to focus on drug smuggling.
- Introduce "preferred adjudication," probation for those who crossed the border illegally. It would force immigrants to acknowledge they broke the law, and makes them start paying taxes, learn English, get a job, then get a work permit.
- Set up an immigration system based on the needs of the economy because of labor shortages that will come as baby-boomers retire.
- And put in place a visa tracking system to make it easier for employers to verify whether an individual can work legally.

-- By Tom Momberg
For WisPolitics.com

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

 11:01 AM 

Wis. House delegation remains skeptical on Syria

Following President Obama's address to the nation on Syria Tuesday evening -- and his call to postpone votes on military intervention amid hopes for a diplomatic solution to its use of chemical weapons -- Wisconsin members of the House of Representatives remained skeptical on the administration's plans.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, said he could not support the president's "ill-conceived, half-hearted proposal," saying a "feckless show of force" in Syria would only further erode the country's credibility.

"After making the case for a firm, rapid response, President Obama has called for an indefinite delay," Ryan said. "He lacks a clear strategy, and now he's following Russia's lead."

U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Weston, said in a statement that, following the speech, he has "moved from 'no' to 'hell no!'"

Dems Gwen Moore and Ron Kind, meanwhile, said they remained undecided. Moore, of Milwaukee, praised the president's call to postpone a vote.

"I am pleased that President Obama has chosen to give the Syrian regime an opportunity to relinquish its chemical weaponry," Moore said. "It is my hope that we are able to positively impact the Syrian crisis through diplomatic channels."

"It looks like there is hope that the use of American military force can be avoided," added Kind, of La Crosse. "I believe, however, that the credible use of force is the only reason that Russia and Syria have now come to the negotiating table."

Prior to the president's speech, U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Sherwood, announced his opposition to military intervention following a breifing by the president's national security team.

"I do not believe it is in America’s national security interest to take military measures against Syria even given the atrocities committed by the Assad regime against the Syrian people," Ribble said.

U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, and Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac, had previously indicated their opposition to the use of military force.

 9:17 AM 

Baldwin: 'America must not act alone'

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin says she’s against authorizing the involvement of the U.S. military in Syria’s civil war, declaring "America must not act alone."

The Madison Democrat was interrupted by peace protesters over the weekend during a speech at Fighting Bob Fest in which she did not take a position on a military strike. But she said on the Senate floor yesterday the use of chemical weapons by President Bashar Assad “demands a global response.”

“(But) this is not America’s responsibility alone,” Baldwin said. “And it is not in our interest to set the precedent that is our responsibility alone. Syria violated international laws and should be held accountable by the international community. America must not act alone.”

Baldwin spoke before President Obama’s speech last night.

She called Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his people “morally reprehensible” and a violation of international law. Instead of the U.S. acting alone, Baldwin urged a continued effort through the United Nations to build an international response to resolve the conflict in Syria.

“We must now give the opportunity of a path forward without military involvement in Syria a chance to succeed,” Baldwin said.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

 1:28 PM 

Johnson criticizes proposed Obamacare rule for members of Congress

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson today criticized a proposal to contribute to congressional health insurance premiums bought through exchanges, saying it violates the purpose and intent of the Affordable Care Act.

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said his office urged the Office of Personnel Management to reconsider the proposed rule, arguing that the law originally stipulated that members and staff would have purchase insurance without a pre-tax payment from their employer.

The senator also criticized the rule as a "bailout for Congress," and argued it would prevent his staff from keeping their current insurance plans "as President Obama promised all Americans when he campaigned for Obamacare."

"The answer is not to protect the privileged few here in Washington from this legislation," Johnson said. "The answer is to repeal a law that is fundamentally flawed, is driving up health insurance costs, is impossible to implement efficiently, and is increasingly unfair to the American people."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

 9:19 AM 

Kind: Focus on implementation of Obamacare, not futile repeal attempts

EAU CLAIRE -- A public information session about the Affordable Care Act hosted by U.S. Rep. Ron Kind had entered its second hour before the “O” word was even uttered, perhaps symbolic of a shift in the debate over Obamacare that Kind says has impacted even his Republican colleagues.

Compared with the combative audiences that members of Congress faced in 2009 and 2010 when the law was in its formative stages, the roughly 200 Chippewa Valley residents who came to listen to Kind and a panel of experts talk about the health law this afternoon were subdued. Even during a question-and-answer session, their queries – some of which came from local GOP activists -- were about the technical aspects of the law, not the politics behind it.

“The Supreme Court has weighed in,” Kind, D-La Crosse, told WisPolitics.com afterward when asked about the shift in attitude.

“They’ve had 40 votes attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” Kind said of his House GOP colleagues, who he said are split on how to confront Obamacare now that one of its major components -- health insurance exchanges for the uninsured -- are set to open Oct. 1. Despite statements by some of their members, Republican congressional leaders are largely opposed to holding the federal budget or the debt ceiling hostage in an attempt to defund Obamacare, Kind said.

Kind recounted an exchange he had with an attendee at a previous public session. The man raised a series of pointed questions about the law, and as Kind began to answer them, it became clear that the questioner was in agreement with many of the principles behind Obamacare. Finally, Kind asked him why he opposed the law.

“It’s the Obama of Obamacare I don’t like,” Kind said the man replied.

But beyond politically motivated dislike of President Barack Obama, Kind said plenty of misconceptions remain about the law. One of them came up during the forum when an audience member suddenly shouted out a question: “Will you get Obamacare now?” When Kind answered “yes” – members of Congress will buy insurance through the health insurance exchanges -- the man seemed satisfied. “That’ll bring it down,” he said, presumably referring to the cost of premiums.

“I know there’s a lot of confusion,” Kind told the audience at the beginning of the forum. “There’s a lot of skepticism, but I think the health care system was in desperate need of reform.”

The forum, held at Chippewa Valley Technical College, was hosted by the Alliance for Strong Communities, an umbrella organization of Eau Claire-area units of government, business and community groups, and labor unions.

Panelists included representatives of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Small Business Administration, and the IRS. They made presentations and fielded questions about the law’s implementation, the exchanges, tax incentives for the uninsured -- and their employers -- to buy into them, and penalties for employers that don’t offer adequate insurance.

Because the health insurance exchanges won’t open until next month, Kind cautioned audience members to withhold judgment about the law’s impact on insurance premiums. The state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance says that – depending on age and geography – insurance premiums in the state could rise from 10 percent to 125 percent next year. Kind noted that the estimates don’t factor in reduced out-of-pocket costs or tax credits that many residents will be eligible for.

“At least wait until Oct. 1 so we can do a real apples-to-apples comparison,” he said.

Ultimately, Kind said, Obamacare will require oversight and improvement, not repeal.

“This isn’t something that came down from Mount Sinai on tablets of stone,” he said. “But now it’s the law.”

-- By Tom Giffey
For WisPolitics.com

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

 3:43 PM 

Wis. delegation waits to hear case on Syria

Members of the Wisconsin congressional delegation have largely praised the president's decision to seek congressional approval of military action in Syria, but most are still waiting to hear the Obama administration's arguments on the matter before deciding how to vote.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, said in a statement today that the president "has some work to do to recover from his grave missteps in Syria."

"He needs to clearly demonstrate that the use of military force would strengthen America's security," Ryan said. "I want to hear his case to Congress and to the American people."

Fellow GOP Congressmen Reid Ribble of Sherwood and Tom Petri of Fond du Lac lauded the president's consultation of Congress, but in posts to their respective Facebook pages over the weekend, neither indicated their position on military intervention. Petri wrote that he would "be carefully reviewing what (the president) puts forward."

The state's senators have also not indicated which way they will vote. U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said in a statement that the president must explain Syria's danger to national security "and how his plan would reduce it." U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, said in a statement that her judgment "on any military action in response to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons will be based on whether clear, focused and achievable objectives and goals are set."

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, called the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons "a direct violation of human rights and a threat to our international peace," saying she looks foward to "a comprehensive and productive debate on whether the United States should take military action."

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, also put himself in the "undecided category" while speaking with the La Crosse Tribune, saying he would like to see a "national intelligence assessment of the likely response if we send cruise missiles into the region."

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said following a classified briefing over the weekend that, "I am still not convinced that there is a compelling national security interest that necessitates a military response, solely or largely born by the United States."

"We need to engage the international community to find the appropriate response to the use of chemical weapons, and to do so will require a much broader discussion with all proper options given full consideration," Pocan said. "The use of chemical weapons is completely unacceptable, but this is an issue that is best addressed by the international community."

 9:39 AM 

Johnson returns to D.C. for Syria discussions

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has been called back to D.C. today and tomorrow to attend Senate Foreign Relations Committee discussions on the Obama administration’s call for action against Syria in the wake of chemical weapons attacks.

Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to testify before the committee today.

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, over the weekend praised President Obama for seeking congressional approval for any military action.

“I have repeatedly said that the president must make the case for military action to the American people,” Johnson said. “I do not know how I will vote. I will listen respectfully and consider the evidence carefully. The president says Syria ‘presents a serious danger to our national security.’ He must explain what this danger is, and how his plan would reduce it.”

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