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Monday, June 30, 2014

 2:26 PM 

Wis. Dem members hammer Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision

Dem members of Wisconsin's congressional delegation today slammed the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling allowing certain companies to opt out of contraceptive coverage for employees.

"The owners of Hobby Lobby, a for-profit arts and crafts store, and Conestoga Wood, a for-profit wood furniture manufacturer, should have no voice when it comes to women's private health care decisions," said U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, adding the ruling "opens the door for employers to restrict access to other essential health care services."

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said the decision "has limited the personal healthcare decisions of women across the United States," while U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, responded, "Women are more than capable of making their own decisions without consulting politicians or their employer."

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, meanwhile, praised the decision, saying he's grateful "the Supreme Court recognized that individuals do not surrender their religious freedoms when operating a business."

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, also said the ruling places "important restraints on the 'fourth branch' of government -- the unelected bureaucrats in the executive agencies."

Thursday, June 26, 2014

 9:10 AM 

Johnson one of three to oppose Senate workforce bill

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson was one of just three members to vote against a job training bill that cleared the Senate Wednesday.

The bill, intended to establish a streamlined workforce development system and bolster training for disabled and young workers, passed on a 95-3 vote.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, called the bill "an important investment in Wisconsin's economic security."

"By modernizing workforce development programs, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act provides critical support and training programs that work for businesses, educators and workers," Baldwin said.

But Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said although the bill was a "well-intentioned effort, Congress has once again worked its magic and authorized more spending in a bill that was meant to eliminate duplicative programs and reduce spending."

"The bill eliminates 15 duplicative job programs, for example -- but about two-thirds of those have not been funded in recent years," Johnson said. "Eliminating spending that wasn't taking place does not constitute fiscal restraint. The bill actually authorizes higher federal spending on jobs programs, from $9.1 billion in 2015 to at least $10.1 billion in 2020, and could increase deficits by nearly $4 billion over the next six years."

Fellow Republicans Mike Lee of Utah and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma joined Johnson in opposing the bill.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

 4:55 PM 

Kind touts bill allowing Social Security benefits for same-sex couples

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, introduced legislation today that would allow same-sex couples to receive Social Security benefits.

The SAME Act, introduced by Kind and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., would amend the Social Security Act to give same-sex couples spousal benefits and remove the requirement that they live in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage. The legislation comes after the Obama administration officials said it has reached the limits of what it can do to guarantee benefits for legally recognized same-sex couples.

Kind, speaking during a press conference this afternoon in D.C., highlighted the trend of court rulings striking down state gay marriage bans. He said those rulings make clear that the national trend is in favor of full recognition of same-sex marriage and the benefits that should come with it.

"This will add a tremendous amount of peace of mind and income security for them in their retirement years, and we're hoping that more of our colleagues in Congress will get on the right side of history and recognize where the movement has been throughout our country," Kind said.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

 10:01 AM 

Ribble legislation would ban recesses without budget passage

U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble today announced legislation that would require Congress to pass a budget prior to taking a recess.

The measure would also apply to annual spending bills and would require that the approved federal budget balance within 10 years. Ribble, R-Sherwood, said he's "willing to lock the doors and force Congress to do its work."

"Congress has gotten too comfortable running a budget deficit every year and shying away from tough spending decisions," Ribble said.

Ribble had previously sponsored legislation that would suspend members' pay without passage of a budget.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

 3:33 PM 

Sensenbrenner slams HHS over plans for children immigrating illegally

U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner today asked the Obama administration how it plans to address a surge in children illegally entering the country.

In a letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, writes the president's order halting deportations for certain young immigrants two years ago "produced a predictable surge in children risking their lives to cross the border."

He also notes recent reports showing plans to house hundred of the immigrants in Virginia were scuttled due to concerns among local residents, writing he's "deeply concerned with HHS’ lack of transparency and preparation."

He then asks a series of questions about plans to house the unaccompanied children and the final cost projections.

"This humanitarian crisis is deeply unsettling, and is likely to get worse unless federal agencies’ capabilities and resources are coordinated effectively to address this issue," Sensenbrenner writes.

Monday, June 16, 2014

 3:53 PM 

Dem members asks AG to recognize same-sex marriages

The Dem members of Wisconsin's congressional delegation today asked the U.S. Department of Justice to formally recognize same-sex couples who have received marriage licenses in the state.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the lawmakers noted that same-sex marriages in Utah and Michigan were recognized at the federal level despite ongoing legal disputes, and write that "those same-sex couples who married in Wisconsin since the June 6 decision are equally entitled to the federal benefits they deserve."

"These loving couples have valid marriage licenses and should receive the same federal recognition that all other married Wisconsin couples currently do," the lawmakers write.

 10:29 AM 

Baldwin calls for AG to drop appeal of same-sex marriage decision

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin says Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is standing in the way of a "clear change in the tide of public opinion" by defending the state ban on same-sex marriage after a federal judge ruled it unconstitutional.

The Democratic senator told "UpFront with Mike Gousha" she believes the Republican attorney general is "prosecuting progress" and said she would like to see the AG drop his appeal, which has prompted a halt in marriages pending an additional ruling.

"He certainly is aware of the Supreme Court opinion of last June; he certainly understands that across the nation federal judge after federal judge has declared that the type of ban that we have in our state constitution to be unconstitutional," said Baldwin, the first country's openly gay senator on the show, produced in partnership with WisPolitics.com. "Now we can say that these bans are not only counter to our values but they're also counter to the U.S. Constitution."

Baldwin characterized the opposition to the recent judicial ruling as limited to a small number of people. She said the process of reversing the marriage amendment could take years and be held up by opponents in the Legislature.

"The views of the American people have really sided with fairness, and I think as Wisconsinites we want to leave for the next generation a state that is more equal, not less," Baldwin said. "I still think the chief concerns on almost every Wisconsin citizen's mind probably focus a lot more on our economy."

Friday, June 13, 2014

 1:36 PM 

Kind offers bill to encourage employee ownership of businesses

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind today announced legislation he says would encourage the establishment of employee-owned businesses.

The bill -- authored by Kind, D-La Crosse, and U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash. -- would expand financing options, provide technical assistance and ensure continued SBA certification for S Corporation owners who sell their stock to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan.

The lawmakers said those plans have proven to build strong businesses and provide retirement security for their employees.

"Growing our economy and adding jobs is a priority and employee-ownership is a proven model to do just that," Kind said.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

 5:29 PM 

Baldwin among Dem senators slamming Will column on campus sexual assault

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, was one of four Dem senators to criticize George Will of the Washington Post over a recent column they argued trivializes sexual assault on college campus.

In a letter to the columnist, Baldwin joined with U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Dianne Feinstein of California and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania to condemn "treating this crime as a socially acceptable phenomenon."

"It is in fact a spreading epidemic, and you legitimize the myths that victims and victim advocates have worked tirelessly for decades to combat," the letter continues.

 2:39 PM 

Johnson one of three senators to oppose VA bill

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson was one of just three senators to vote against legislation designed to address problems with access to care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said the measure -- authored by Republican John McCain of Arizona and Vermont independent Bernie Sanders -- would add billions to the VA budget without addressing the problems affecting the agency. Fellow GOP Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Sessions of Alabama joined Johnson in opposing the bill.

"This legislation doesn’t fix the systemic problems or ensure our veterans get quality, on-time health care," Johnson said in a statement. "It does spend more money to expand a broken system."

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, supported the bill, saying it would update the VA's scheduling system, hire additional doctors and nurses and allow veterans experiencing long wait times to see private doctors.

"By putting politics aside and coming together today we have taken steps to keep that promise and make needed improvements to the delivery of veterans’ health care," Baldwin said.

The House this week unanimously passed legislation -- authored by U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Sherwood -- allowing veterans to seek private health care, meaning the measure will go to a conference committee. Johnson said he hopes that process "will produce legislation I can support."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

 11:02 AM 

Wis. senators split on student loan bill

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson today split on a vote to advance student loan refinancing legislation.

Baldwin, D-Madison, supported the bill, while Johnson, R-Oshkosh, voted against it. The largely party-line 56-38 vote did not clear the 60-vote threshold to move the bill forward.

Baldwin had co-sponsored the bill, arguing student loan debt is "holding back an entire generation and creating a drag on economic growth." She said in a statement following the vote that Republicans chose "to protect tax loopholes for millionaires and billionaires instead of providing relief to middle class families struggling with student loan debt."

Johnson, however, blamed "government policy" for rising higher education costs and the Obama administration for slow economic growth, arguing the bill "would add insult to injury to now ask all hard-working Americans to foot the bill."

"It is grossly unfair, and it does not remotely begin to resolve the fundamental problem of rising college costs and student debt, which is why I did not support it," Johnson said.

 10:19 AM 

Ryan calls for new approach to defense spending

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan today called for more defense spending, but with a new approach to ensure money is spent more wisely.

The Janesville Republican, in an address to the Center for a New American Security in Washington, also advocated a foreign policy approach he said would assure America's allies of its support.

And he linked balancing the budget to the country's ability to field a strong military.

"We can't be a good neighbor if we're not the master of our own house," Ryan said in prepared remarks. "To us, the debt is a liability. To our rivals, it's leverage. And to our friends, it's demoralizing. It's hard to trust a country that's maxed out its credit cards and taken out a third mortgage."

Ryan, who has been weighing a bid for the presidency, was also critical of President Obama, portraying him as indecisive and taking issue with his decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by 2016.

"We should bring our troops home as soon as possible, but not before we finish the job," Ryan said. "No country can lean on us forever. But the Afghan people are trying to stand on their own. And we should help them to their feet."

 8:52 AM 

Johnson attends Ukraine inauguration

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson joined an American delegation to Ukraine for the county’s inauguration ceremonies.

“I was happy to join Vice President Biden's delegation at the inauguration of newly elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko,” Johnson said in a statement. “American leadership is crucial to a peaceful and prosperous world. The presence of our elected officials is an important way of supporting a free Ukraine as it deals with hostility from an aggressive neighbor, Russia.”

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, attended the June 7 ceremony with a U.S. delegation that included the vice president and U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

 8:20 AM 

Petri criticizes student loan executive order; Pocan touts refinancing measure

U.S. Rep. Tom Petri said President Barack Obama is "moving in the wrong direction" with his executive order to expand a program lowering some student loan monthly payments.

Petri, a Fond du Lac Republican who has been active on the issue for years, said Obama's expansion of his "Pay As You Earn" program keeps a complex loan repayment system in place.

Obama signed an executive order yesterday entering about 5 million borrowers by December 2015 into the program, which caps monthly loan payments to 10 percent of a borrower's income. Under the program, the government forgives the amount left on loans after borrowers make monthly payments for 20 years -- or 10 years if they're in government or some non-profit jobs.

Instead, Petri called on Obama to work with Congress for broader solutions. Petri said those include his proposal to help low-income graduates through measures like getting rid of interest compounding, as well as "protect taxpayers by eliminating loan subsidies and unnecessary loan forgiveness programs."

"Basing payments on income makes sense, but I'm always hearing from students who need affordable payments but don't take advantage of these options because the system is too confusing and bureaucratic," said Petri, a senior member of the House Education and Workforce Committee. "At the same time, expanding forgiveness available in the current programs will likely leave taxpayers on the hook for billions in unpaid loans."

But U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan hailed Obama's backing of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren's bill, which would allow some borrowers to refinance their loans at more affordable rates. He called on the House to take action on the bill and other student loan legislation like his own before heading home for the August recess.

The Senate was scheduled to vote tomorrow on Warren's bill, which would close some tax loopholes to raise revenue for the refinancing program.

- By Polo Rocha
For WisPolitics.com

Thursday, June 5, 2014

 10:40 AM 

Ribble 'confident' Congress will find highway funding solution

The Highway Trust Fund will run out of cash at some point this summer, but U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble is optimistic a solution will be found to keep road projects moving.

"I'm confident we'll get it done. It will probably be a last-minute thing, like a lot of the way things are done in Washington," Ribble, R-Sherwood, said at the Future of Wisconsin Transportation II luncheon in Appleton.

"We'll probably wind up robbing Peter to pay Paul -- taking money from other some fund to find a short-term solution. But I hope this opens up serious discussion on how we can reliably fund our roads in the long-term."

Ribble, the vice chair of the House Highways Subcommittee, said there are several options to look at when it comes to funding transportation long-term, including higher gas taxes, vehicle mileage assessments or higher registration fees.

Ribble, however, argued against tolling following a question from a GOP state lawmaker. Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, said tolling had a lot of potential to help the state transportation fund.

But Ribble called Wisconsin a "tough place to toll" because of short interstate distances, divided public opinion and the expense of that user fee compared a higher gas tax. As to the contention that tolling would garner money from out-of-state visitors, he said, "They help pay for (infrastructure) anyway; they buy gas in our state."

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· Tammy Baldwin (D)
· Ron Johnson (R)

· 1st CD: Paul Ryan (R)
· 2nd CD: Mark Pocan (D)
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· 5th CD: F. James Sensenbrenner (R)
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