• WisPolitics

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

 4:41 PM 

Wis. senators divided on outsourcing, border spending bills

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson split on a pair of cloture votes before the Senate today.

Baldwin, D-Madison, voted in support of legislation to end tax breaks for outsourcing and to allocate emergency spending at the border with Mexico. Johnson, R-Oshkosh, opposed both measures.

The outsourcing bill, which also would have provided incentives to companies moving jobs back to the U.S., drew a 54-42 vote, falling short of the 60 votes needed to move forward.

Baldwin said she was disappointed in the vote, arguing the nation's "tax policy and economic development efforts should not provide tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas, they should support job creation in Wisconsin."

The border bill, meanwhile, advanced by a 63-33 margin. The legislation would provide $2.7 billion to address a surge in unaccompanied children arriving in the country from Central America.

 10:08 AM 

Sensenbrenner bill would allow states to refuse placement of undocumented children

U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner today announced legislation that would give states the right to refuse placement of unaccompanied immigrant children by federal officials.

Under the UAC State Authority Act, the U.S. Health and Human Services secretary would be required to notify a state's governor prior to transferring those immigrants into that state, and the governor would have a 10-day window to refuse the transfer.

Amid a surge in undocumented children entering the country from Central America, reports have indicated dozens have been placed with Wisconsin families while officials in Madison and Milwaukee consider facilities in which to house others.

A group of GOP state lawmakers, meanwhile, last week asked the Obama administration to "discontinue" efforts to place children in Wisconsin.

"While I recognize the severity and sensitivity of this crisis, we must secure the border and make a clear statement to those seeking citizenship in the United States: Illegal activity will not be rewarded," Sensenbrenner said. "The administration should be transparent about its intentions."

 9:50 AM 

Pocan co-authors tax exemption for forgiven student debt

Dem U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan and Frederica Wilson have introduced legislation to establish a tax exemption for student loan debt that's been forgiven under federal programs.

Under the Relief for Underwater Student Borrowers Act, debt forgiven under the Income Based Repayment or Pay as You Earn programs would no longer be treated as taxable income, matching other loan forgiveness programs such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness or TEACH Grants.

Pocan, of Madison, and Wilson, of Florida, argued the bill would help address record levels of student debt nationally.

"This legislation closes a major gap in our tax code which penalizes some borrowers who have been granted debt relief after at least 20 years of consistent repayment towards their student loan debt," Pocan said.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

 10:51 AM 

Kind seeks additional safety measures for oil shipped via rail

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind is asking federal officials to consider requiring additional safety measures for crude oil shipped by rail.

In a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Kind, D-La Crosse, asks the agency to further examine the practice of stabilizing crude oil shipped from the Bakken fields in North Dakota. Stabilizing, Kind says, removes the most volatile elements of crude oil prior to shipping and is required for most pipelines -- but not for rail transportation.

Kind notes Wisconsin has seen "exponential growth in crude oil rail traffic" amid a 4,000 percent increase nationwide from 2008 to 2013, increasing the risk of potential derailments and dangerous fuel spills. He also writes that Bakken oil is "much more volatile" than most other types of heavy crude oil.

“As more and more of this volatile oil moves through our communities, we need to implement appropriate safety measures to reduce the risk of fatal accidents on our rail system,” Kind said in a statement. “DOT is taking steps in the right direction by moving to phase out old tank cars and reducing speed limits, but action needs to be taken immediately to make the Bakken crude oil moving through Wisconsin less dangerous.”

Monday, July 28, 2014

 9:12 AM 

Ryan calls for customizing government assistance

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan says the government needs to customize its anti-poverty programs to cater to individuals' needs.

Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," the Janesville Republican pushed his call to consolidate 11 federal anti-poverty programs, including food stamps and public housing assistance, into a system the states could administer.

Ryan said the current programs don't work with each other and end up being counterproductive. His approach, he said, would allow states to customize aid to poor families to give them a path out of poverty.

"If you want to have a healthy economy and have real solutions, you have to have a healthy safety net, and a safety net needs to work to get people out of poverty," Ryan said. "So my argument here is let's not focus on effort, on input, how much money you spend. Let's focus on outcomes. Are we actually getting people out of poverty?"

Ryan, the House Budget chair who's looking to become Ways and Means chair, also addressed his past comments about a "dependency culture." He said his intent is not to blame those in poverty, but argued the government's approach sometimes creates a disincentive to work.

"Able-bodied people should go to work and we should have a system that helps them do that so that they can realize their potential," Ryan said. "That for me is a far better system to get people out of poverty long term than to just spend more hardworking taxpayer dollars on a program that is not getting the results that people deserve."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

 5:39 PM 

Baldwin measure aims to address VA physician shortage

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin today announced legislation aimed at training new physicians to address shortages within the embattled U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The bill, dubbed the Veterans Affairs Health Workforce Enhancement Act, would increase the number of VA Graduate Medical Education positions by 2,000 over five years -- directing those spots to needed specialties such as primary care and mental health -- and require the VA to allocate new residency slots based on which facilities are experiencing shortages.

The measure would also expand the VA's ability to train more physicians in needed specialties, increasing the number of physicians with experience in veteran care and helping to keep doctors practicing with the VA.

Baldwin, D-Madison, called the shortage the "underlying issue" that has led to lengthy delays for veterans waiting for care at VA hospitals.

"My bill helps ensure that the VA has the tools to create and sustain a robust health care workforce so that we can guarantee our veterans continue to receive high quality health care in a timely manner," Baldwin said. "Our veterans have served our country with honor and we owe it to them to keep our promise to provide the benefits they’ve earned."

 5:24 PM 

Ryan proposes pilot program for states to overhaul poverty programs

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan today proposed creating a pilot program for states to help overhaul federal anti-poverty efforts, saying "it’s time to bring in reinforcements."

"My thinking is, listen to the boots on the ground, the local leaders who are changing the status quo," said Ryan, R-Janesville, in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. "Let them try unique and innovative ideas with a proven track record, and then test the results."

Ryan said his proposed "Opportunity Grant" would consolidate 11 federal programs -- including food stamps, housing assistance and cash welfare -- into one funding stream, allowing states that opt into the program to access funding to test different ways of providing aid.

Ryan said each state would get the same amount of funding as under current law, and the federal government would approve state proposals provided they meet four prerequisites -- spend money on those in need, require those able to work to do so, provide more than one aid option to program participants and track results with a neutral third party.

"In other words, families in need would have a choice. There wouldn’t just be a federal agency or a state agency," Ryan said. "Instead, they could choose from a list of certified providers. We’re talking nonprofits, or for-profits, or even community groups unique to your neighborhood."

Monday, July 21, 2014

 5:03 PM 

Johnson Obamacare suit dismissed

A federal judge today dismissed U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson's suit over an Obama administration ruling on the Affordable Care Act, finding he had failed to demonstrate any true harm he faced from the decision.

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, challenged the administration's ruling allowing the federal government to subsidize health insurance for lawmakers and some congressional staffers.

Johnson argued the ruling hurts his reputation with his constituents by requiring him to participate in an "illegal" scheme, imposes an administrative burden on him and his staff in determining which of his employees are eligible for the subsidy, and the rule means he is treated differently from his constituents.

Judge William Griesbach ruled Johnson and his aide lacked standing to file the suit, finding much of the injuries the lawmaker claimed were speculative. The judge also rejected Johnson's argument that he was being required to participate in something he found illegal. Griesbach noted no court had yet found the administration's rule illegal and the provision does not require any member of Congress to act.

Simply believing the provision is illegal was not "enough to create standing because that would open the door to any uninjured party who had a generalized grievance with a government regulation. Under such an approach, there would be no principled limit on standing because a plaintiff need only allege a belief that the challenged regulation is illegal," the judge wrote.

Johnson says he and his legal team will review a court decision rejecting his Obamacare suit before deciding whether to appeal.

“We’ve lost a battle in court, but we will continue to move forward in our effort to return sanity, fairness and justice to government on behalf of the American people,” he said.

 9:49 AM 

Moore questions opponent's criticism of Milwaukee politicians

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore said on Sunday's "UpFront with Mike Gousha" she didn't expect a Democratic primary challenge in the 4th CD seat she has held since 2005.

"I was surprised because I think that I am good steward of the seat," the Milwaukee Democrat said on the show, produced in conjunction with WisPolitics.com. "I thought that Sen. (Gary) George would use his talents in other ways, given the nature of his departure from politics."

George, D-Milwaukee, was recalled from office and convicted on charges of felony conspiracy. Moore only alluded to George's conviction, instead questioning his decision to criticize Milwaukee politicians over those in Madison and Washington, D.C.

"It's a very curious fight; why he has so much hostility for the people in Milwaukee," Moore said.

She said it's difficult to debate the problems faced by Milwaukee, but directed blame for slow job growth Walker. She criticized Walker for turning down federal funding for Medicaid and high speed rail.

"Our governor just goal-tended and took that money out of the queue," Moore said. "That was about to bring back life and jobs, at least 500 jobs."

She said she would have liked to see George instead run for retiring U.S. Rep. Tom Petri's seat in the 6th CD.

"We need to pick up seats; we don't need to just have Democratic primaries," Moore said. "That's a seat that could be won by a Democrat and what's scary is that Sen. George didn't see fit to run for that seat."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

 1:15 PM 

Ribble asks White House about biennial budgeting

U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble and other proponents of switching to a biennial federal budget today asked for feedback from the Obama administration on their legislation.

In a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan, Ribble -- along with U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson. R-Ga., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Angus King, I-Maine -- argued the proposal would "allow Congress to work on a more manageable budget and appropriations schedule while also providing agencies more time to plan and implement the programs that Congress authorizes."

"Congress and the Administration would then be able to accurately gauge the effectiveness of federal programs to promote more efficient uses of taxpayer funds," the lawmakers add.

Ribble, R-Sherwood, said in a statement that with support for the change growing in Congress, "we believed it was time to ask President Obama and his Administration what they think."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

 9:27 AM 

Ribble, Sensenbrenner oppose Highway Trust Fund bill

GOP U.S. Reps. Reid Ribble and Jim Sensenbrenner were among just 55 House members to vote against a short-term plan to replenish the federal Highway Trust Fund.

The bill, which would move more than $10 billion into the fund before it's expected to run dry next month, passed yesterday with 367 members in favor -- including Wisconsin's Dem members and Republicans Paul Ryan of Janesville, Tom Petri of Fond du Lac and Sean Duffy of Weston.

Even some of the "aye" votes, however, were critical of the legislation.

Petri, a longtime Transportation Committee member who's retiring at the end of this session, said although lawmakers have an obligation to keep highway projects moving, "this is not what the American people sent us here to accomplish."

“In the Highways and Transit subcommittee, we have held hearing after hearing where state transportation officials, mayors, governors, truckers, transit operators, economists, and experts in transportation policy have testified with unwavering support for a long-term, fully-funded surface transportation bill," Petri said. "That should still be our goal. But at the end of the day, we cannot let the quest for the perfect stand in the way of the good or the acceptable."

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, added, "Federal inaction and short-term patches hinder needed transportation and infrastructure investments, and increase the uncertainty and costs for state and local governments."

Ribble, meanwhile, said he "could not in good conscience support this ‘punt’ that sets up another manufactured crisis in a few months instead of fixing this problem once and for all.”

"The possible solutions to this problem are clear and present, yet Congress won’t act to make the tough decisions needed," said Ribble, another Transportation Committee member.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

 1:51 PM 

Ryan: Obamacare, Dodd-Frank 'subvert popular government'

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan today argued the American Idea “imposes a duty” to oppose programs such as Obamacare and Dodd-Frank that “subvert popular government and impose administrative rule.”

Ryan, R-Janesville, said in a speech at Hillsdale College such government programs cannot be reformed or restructured and must either end or be “replaced by something completely different and consistent with popular consent and self-government.”

“No reform is possible without recognizing this problem,” Ryan said. “No reform is worth pursuing that does not turn against this rule and take us on the path of principled renewal.”

Ryan called for conservatives to oppose progressives’ view of administrative rule with a set of policies that comply with the Constitution. He also called for restructuring those government programs that can be saved “within the bounds of limited government.”’

“Self-government under the rule of law is the conservative touchstone,” Ryan said. “It rests upon human equality and our equal endowment with fundamental rights. It helps us identify measures that conform to the American Idea, and those that weaken or conflict with the American Idea. There’s our sure guide for reform.”

 12:14 PM 

Baldwin, Taylor testify before Senate panel on abortion bill

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and state Rep. Chris Taylor today testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of legislation designed to curb restrictions on abortion services.

The Madison Democrats, in separate appearances before the panel, told members the Women's Health Protection Act would protect women's access to reproductive health care in states like Wisconsin, where, Baldwin said, "we are now ranked as one of the worst states ... thanks to the restrictive measures enacted by our governor and Legislature."

Baldwin, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the legislation would "would outlaw any mandate or regulation that does not significantly advance women’s health or the safety of abortion services," particularly pointing to a 2013 Wisconsin law requiring women seeking abortions to undergo ultrasounds and doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The latter provision has been put on hold in an ongoing federal court case.

"We need to act now to guarantee that American women will continue to have the freedom to make their own health care decisions and to have access to essential, quality women’s health care services," Baldwin said.

Taylor testified that the Wisconsin Legislature has "spent an inordinate amount of time and resources in restricting women’s reproductive health care access and rights" -- particularly with rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion lower than the national average.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

 5:25 PM 

Baldwin, Johnson split on outdoors bill

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson today split on a wide-ranging outdoors bill that failed to clear the Senate.

Baldwin, D-Madison, voted for the legislation, while Johnson, R-Oshkosh, was opposed.

The measure, which would have, in part, eased hunting and fishing regulations on federal lands, failed following a 56-41 cloture vote; 60 votes were needed to move forward.

"Wisconsin has a strong tradition of hunting, fishing and enjoying the great outdoors," said Baldwin, who co-sponsored the bill. "I'm proud to support this bipartisan effort to protect these traditions for future generations while also making important investments that ensure Wisconsin's outdoor recreation industry continues to be an important economic driver in our state."

Prospects for the bipartisan bill had waned following a spat over amendments in recent days, many of which would have dealt with gun control issues.

Monday, July 7, 2014

 5:41 PM 

Johnson says he's 'cautiously optimistic' about Obamacare lawsuit's chances

GOP U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson says he’s “cautiously optimistic” on the chances for his suit challenging part of Obamacare to succeed.

U.S. Judge William C. Griesbach in Green Bay, during today’s oral arguments on the government's motion to dismiss Johnson's suit, indicated that he expects to issue a ruling shortly. But he offered no specific time frame.

Johnson, who sat through today’s hearing, said he had his fingers crossed that Griesbach would issue a ruling today. Still, he said the government’s motion to dismiss is his first hurdle to clear.

The government argues the Oshkosh Republican lacks standing to sue over the Obama administration rule allowing the federal government to subsidize health insurance for lawmakers and some congressional staffers. Johnson has countered the ruling hurts his reputation with his constituents.

Johnson, a frequent Obamacare critic, said he has two goals in the suit. One is to restore the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches, arguing the Obama administration didn’t have the power to alter the Affordable Care Act provision requiring lawmakers and their staffs to live under the program’s requirements as their constituents do. The second is to help force changes in the law.

“Maybe if I’m successful, and members of Congress really do have to be under the dictates of Obamacare, they’ll act responsibly and start repealing the effects of Obamacare and prevent further damage,” he said.

 3:06 PM 

Pocan calls for highway fund fix

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan today called for Congress to bolster the federal Highway Trust Fund, arguing hundreds of thousands of jobs could be at stake if the fund runs out next month.

Pocan, D-Madison, joined highway advocates and labor groups for a press conference at a construction site on Madison's southwest side this afternoon. He said in a statement the fund is currently set to expire by the end of August, the product of a stagnant federal gas tax, more fuel-efficient vehicles and rising constructions costs.

Pocan said allowing the fund to run dry could delay federal reimbursement for state highway projects, potentially delaying repairs, increasing costs, prolonging problems for commuters and jeopardizing "nearly 700,000 jobs across the country next year."

"If Congress does not act soon, states like Wisconsin may have to choose which projects going on across the state continue and which ones will have to be delayed because of insufficient funds," Pocan said.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

 9:40 AM 

Johnson: Lack of stabilizing force in Iraq 'huge strategic blunder'

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said Wednesday the Obama administration's failure "to leave a stabilizing force behind" in Iraq "was a huge strategic blunder" that could result in a partitioned country that will empower Iran and Al Qaeda.

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, told a WisPolitics.com luncheon in Milwaukee that the United States was "well on its way" to achieving the goal of establishing "a coalition government in a shared goal of shared prosperity."

Added Johnson, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "I think we were well on our way to achieving that goal, and that's what we squandered."

He also said the United States needs to do more to help the Kurds, the Israelis and the Ukrainians.

"We need to show far greater strength and resolve ... because when America doesn't lead, there are huge voids and vacuums created in the world, and those vacuums and voids are filled with very bad people," said Johnson.

See more from the luncheon in Wednesday's PM Update.

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· Tammy Baldwin (D)
· Ron Johnson (R)

· 1st CD: Paul Ryan (R)
· 2nd CD: Mark Pocan (D)
· 3rd CD: Ron Kind (D)
· 4th CD: Gwen Moore (D)
· 5th CD: F. James Sensenbrenner (R)
· 6th CD: Glenn Grothman (R)
· 7th CD: Sean Duffy (R)
· 8th CD: Reid Ribble (R)



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