U.S. Rep. Tom Petri today introduced legislation to provide a tax credit for small-dollar federal campaign contributions, arguing it would encourage those donors to get more involved in political campaigns.
The measure would restore a tax credit for contributions between $200 -- the threshold for disclosure in federal campaign finance reports -- and $600.
Petri, R-Fond du Lac, said a credit for small donations previously existed between 1972 and 1986, and that as campaign operations increasingly move online, "campaigns could tilt the playing field away from special interests and large donors and empower small donors and average Americans."
"Campaigns are becoming more and more expensive with no signs of slowing down. And most would agree that the ideal way to finance a campaign is through a broad base of donors," Petri said in a statement. "Unfortunately, most Americans aren’t in the position to donate hundreds or thousands of dollars -- but they want to get involved. We should be encouraging political participation."
Wisconsin's U.S. senators split along party lines today as the chamber backed the so-called "nuclear option" offered by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
The provision requires a simple majority vote of the chamber to approve executive appointments -- except those to the U.S. Supreme Court -- meaning Republicans can no longer block most of President Obama's nominees through a filibuster, which requires 60 votes to break.
Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, joined all but three Senate Dems -- Carl Levin of Michigan, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Pryor of Arkansas -- in supporting the proposal, which passed 52-48.
Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, who voted with his GOP colleagues in opposition, called Reid a "power-driven, cynical politician" in a statement on the vote.
"Democrats are quickly losing the support of Americans across the nation," Johnson said. "Today, responding to that voter backlash to his extreme agenda that is undermining our economy and health care, Majority Leader Harry Reid reversed Senate rules to distract public attention away from the failure of Obamacare and to make it easier to pack the federal courts with ideologically extreme judges who will rubber stamp the radical agenda of the Democratic Party."
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told a group of Wisconsinites last week that the GOP's best weapon in 2014 is Obamacare.
"Obamacare is an issue coming out of Virginia that everyone on the Democratic side of the aisle should be aware of," said Priebus, referring to the closer-than-expected win by Dem Terry McAuliffe over GOP opponent Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor's race.
"And our approach is going to be to tattoo Obamacare on Democrats' forehead and beat 'em with it," Priebus said Tuesday during a 40-minute question-and-answer session at Bullfeathers, just down the street from RNC headquarters. "And we're going to do that and do that all over the country." He also said the RNC has been engineering a "permanent ground game" in key states including Wisconsin.
Priebus rebuffed critics who said the national party didn't do enough to help Cuccinelli. He said it was "insane" to think that the transfer of $11 million from the Republican Governors Association and RNC wasn't enough. "I would say to some critics that there was plenty of opportunity to transfer money into Virginia ... and some of them that are the loudest critics didn't produce a nickel."
He said Cuccinelli's loss and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's big win wasn't because one was a social conservative and one was a moderate. "There's not a huge difference there (on their positions) other than ... Chris Christie -- very similarly to Scott Walker -- is a person who has made some very bold, big promises and then followed through on those promises."
And he downplayed the negative effects of the Tea Party. "We also wouldn't have as many seats in the House and the Senate if it weren't for the Tea Party. ... Passion on the ground is irreplaceable. I think you've seen that in Wisconsin," where there is a unified movement, he said.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Friday urged Gov. Scott Walker to reverse his decision to turn down federal money to expand Medicaid, even as she praised him for his move to extend BadgerCare coverage by three months.
"There is $10 billion of federal funding that would come into Wisconsin over the next 10 years if the governor and the Legislature chose to expand Medicaid," Sebelius said. "Ten billion for newly insured folks in Wisconsin to get health care, and frankly, those dollars are now being absorbed by community hospitals paying for uncompensated care, by taxpayers who pay for care of others," she said.
The governor said Thursday he's in favor of allowing people to continue coverage through March 31, the deadline to enroll in health care through the Affordable Care Act.
"Having people take the full advantage of open enrollment, which lasts until the 31st of March, makes sense, so people don't drop through the cracks," she said, citing support for the change from Dems Tammy Baldwin and Tom Barrett.
Sebelius said Wisconsin was once "on its way to run a state-based marketplace and actually was one of the early innovator states" and had "incredible technology builds" started. Then, she said, "the new administration came in and decided they would no longer follow that plan any longer would would instead become part of the federal marketplace."
She said she hoped Wisconsin and the 35 other federal marketplace states would create state-based programs. "We'd love to hand over the baton," she said.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, delivered this week's GOP national address, slamming President Obama for the "fraud" he perpetrated on the American people through Obamacare and urging voters to hold House and Senate Dems responsible for helping him.
Johnson called the president's apology "phony" and described his statement that "if you like your health care plan, you can keep it" as a "fully vetted, coldly calculated, and carefully crafted to deceptively sell your healthcare plan to a trusting public."
"It was a political fraud echoed relentlessly by House and Senate Democrats who should be held accountable for the disastrous consequences of their grand deception," Johnson said.
Johnson also touted his bill to allow people to keep the health insurance plans they had before Obamacare took effect. The House voted on similar legislation Friday with U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, joining Republicans in supporting the bill.
U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, today joined with the state's Republican congressmen in support of a bill aimed at maintaining current health insurance plans under the Obamacare law.
The House passed the measure, titled the Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013, 261-157, with 39 Dems voting for the proposal and four Republicans voting against it.
The bill would extend through next year insurance plans set to end under the standards of the Affordable Care Act, and would allow new constomers to enroll in those plans. It stands little chance in the Dem-controlled Senate.
"I’ve always said that the ACA is not a perfect bill. The only way that health care reform can work is if we learn from what’s working, and fix what isn’t," Kind said in a statement. "I voted for today’s bill because it’s important to keep that commitment."
Wisconsin's other two Dem members, Mark Pocan of Madison and Gwen Moore of Milwaukee, voted against the bill.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin announced legislation today to improve "transparency, oversight and accountability on National Security Agency domestic surveillance."
"Over ten years ago, I voted against the USA PATRIOT Act because I believed it would open the door to government overreach," Baldwin said in a statement. "We have now seen that secret, domestic surveillance programs at the National Security Agency have crossed the line."
Baldwin, D-Madison, said the Freedoms and Privacy Act of 2013 would also bolster due process protections relating to information sharing between law enforcement and the intelligence community and "protects Americans’ right to privacy under the 4th Amendment."
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin today called on the Walker administration to allow thousands of BadgerCare participants above the federal poverty line to maintain their current coverage through the end of March.
In a letter to the governor, Baldwin, D-Madison, wrote that the state's current outreach to those citizens -- combined with the widespread problems with the federal government's health insurance exchange website -- puts "thousands of people are at risk of losing their coverage."
Baldwin commended some positive steps taken by the state to reach those low-income Wisconsinites, including through phone calls, but said "reaching all of these individuals in a timely manner remains a significant challenge." She wrote that altering the state's current waiver request would align the BadgerCare changes with the deadline for open enrollment on the Obamacare marketplace.
"This solution would give the people we work for more time to enroll, gain access to (Affordable Care Act) premium tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies, and eliminate the risk of lost coverage on January 1," Baldwin wrote.
The senator also wrote that the administration could temporarily expand BadgerCare up to the parameters outlined in the health care law "at no cost to the State of Wisconsin," again criticizing the governor for his decision to reject Medicaid expansion funding earlier this year.
U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner today defended the USA PATRIOT Act before a European Parliament committee in Belgium today, saying the law's supporters "never intended to allow the National Security Agency to peer indiscriminately into the lives of innocent people all over the world."
"As chairman, I worked under strict time constraints to strike a balance between civil liberties and national security in the USA PATRIOT Act," Sensenbrenner, who led the House Judiciary Committee during passage of the bill, told the parliament's Civil Liberties Committee in Brussels. "The final bill brought together liberal Democrats and far-right Republicans and passed out of the Committee unanimously."
Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, said Congress extended broader powers to the executive branch in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, but that "the NSA abused that trust."
He also touted legislation, offered with U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to "deliver real reforms" to the NSA, including ending bulk data collection and bolstering oversight of the agency.
"It's the strongest message we can send that innocent people should not be treated as terrorists, that our private lives should be left private, and that the rule of law is neither flexible nor permissive," Sensenbrenner said.
U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson split in today’s vote on a gay rights bill to ban discrimination in the workplace.
Baldwin, D-Madison, the first openly gay U.S. senator, is one of the sponsors of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. She praised the bipartisan 64-32 vote.
“Every American deserves the freedom to work free of discrimination and this bipartisan effort advanced our uniquely American values - freedom, fairness and opportunity,” the Madison Dem said. “Passing this legislation is about freedom – the freedom to realize our founding belief that all Americans are created equal under the law.”
Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said he’s opposed to discrimination in any form, but called the legislation “fundamentally flawed.”
“It creates new burdens on employers through vague and undefined terms, increases the federal government’s interference in labor markets and provides for a religious exemption that is too narrow,” he said.
President Obama today nominated attorney James Peterson for a long-vacant spot on the federal bench in Madison.
Peterson is a shareholder at Godfrey & Kahn, where he is a member of the firm’s litigation and intellectual property practice groups. He previously worked as a law clerk for former Appeals Court Judge David Deininger after graduating from the UW-Madison Law School in 1998 and was a member of the University of Notre Dame faculty prior to his law career.
U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson had recommended Peterson, Michael R. Fitzpatrick and John W. Vaudreuil for the the seat, which was once held by Judge John Shabaz. It has been vacant since 2009 and considered a judicial emergency for the time it has been open.
UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank this week called federal sequestration "the biggest problem" facing the Madison campus, saying it arbitrarily targets one of the campus' largest funding sources.
"This past year is the first year in a long time we've seen those numbers go down," Blank told a WisPolitics.com luncheon about federal research dollars directed to the campus.
And for a university perennially ranked among the top recipients of those research dollars, Blank said UW officials would need to determine "which dollars are going to decline, which of these can we bridge ... and which of these are places where we're going to have to close down active and thriving research programs because we don't have other monies to replace them."
Blank, who headed the U.S. Commerce Department at the outset of the sequester cuts, said she believes she did more damage through those cuts than any other act in her management career.
"You can always cut budgets, but sequestration required that every single budget component be cut by exactly the same amount," Blank said. "So things that were absolutely central to the national interest got cut by 5 percent, and things that I could have really eliminated entirely if I were setting huge priorities got cut by 5 percent."
And she said the same thing is happening to research dollars -- noting UW-Madison expects an even larger decline next year.
"Rather than being able to make priority choices ... you're cutting every single research area by the same amount," Blank said. "And that's just a really foolish and destructive way to deal with managing the government."