• WisPolitics


Monday, March 31, 2014

 5:08 PM 

Ryan praises Camp as Ways and Means chair announces retirement

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan today lauded House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp following the Michigan Republican's announcement that he would not seek re-election this year.

"Under Chairman Camp's leadership, we have exercised vigorous oversight over the President's flawed health-care law, shone a light on the IRS's targeting of people based on their political beliefs, and started a long-overdue conversation about how to fix our nation's complex and uncompetitive tax code," Ryan said in a statement. "Dave is a leader for House conservatives, and I am proud to call him my friend. I look forward to the important work in the year ahead."

Ryan, R-Janesville, had previously indicated his desire to succeed Camp as chairman of Ways and Means in the next session. Ryan received an extension from the House GOP caucus to continue as Budget chairman this session despite exceeding his term limit with the gavel; Camp would have been term limited following this session.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, is also seeking to take over the Ways and Means Committee next year.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

 6:37 PM 

Baldwin offers bill to curb campus bullying

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin has introduced legislation aimed at curbing harassment and bullying on college campuses.

The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act -- offered with fellow U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. -- would require campuses receiving federal aid to ban harassment of students based on race, religion, sexual orientation and other factors.

The bill, named for a Rutgers University student that committed suicide in 2010, would also recognize cyberbullying and authorize a competitve grant program for colleges to improve anti-harassment practices.

"Our schools should not be, and cannot be a place of discrimination, harassment, bullying, intimidation or violence," said Baldwin, D-Madison. "This legislation is an important step forward in not only preventing and addressing harassment on campus, but also making sure our students have the freedom to succeed in safe and healthy communities of learning and achievement."


 3:36 PM 

Wis. delegation backs aid to Ukraine, sanctions for Russia

Baldwin and fellow U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson each backed legislation to provide aid to Ukraine and sanction Russia over its actions in Crimea.

"This bipartisan action shows we can come together in Congress to defend our national security interests and relationships, and to support the democracy and security of our allies abroad," Baldwin said in a statement.

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, called the bill the “right thing to do” and praised Dems for deleting "divisive and extraneous International Monetary Fund reforms from the bill."

The measure passed the Senate via voice vote, while the House passed its version 399-19. All eight members of the Wisconsin House delegation voted in support of the measure.


 12:36 PM 

Walker defends BadgerCare transition in letter to Baldwin

Gov. Scott Walker defended his administration's efforts to reach out to those affected by changes in BadgerCare enrollment standards in a letter to U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

Baldwin, D-Madison, asked Walker for an update last week on the roughly 77,000 Wisconsinites set to move from BadgerCare to the insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act next week.

Baldwin argued that Walker's approach -- which declined federal funding to expand Medicaid, instead reducing the BadgerCare enrollment threshold to 100 percent of the federal poverty level -- "took our state taxpayers down a fiscally irresponsible path" and could lead to an increase in the uninsured population without proper tracking.

In a letter sent yesterday, Walker said the state had "implemented an aggressive outreach effort to increase awareness of changes made necessary by the federal law and to provide information and assistance for those transitioning as a result of the ACA."

He detailed letters and phone calls to affected BadgerCare participants, as well as paper applications sent "after the failed federal rollout of Healthcare.gov left most users unable to sign up for health plans through the exchange."

The governor also touted town halls and editorial board meetings conducted by the state Insurance Commissioner's office, plus meetings with stakeholders and training for navigators and counselors coordinated by OCI and the state Department of Health Services.

"Due to these efforts, Wisconsin has been one of the more successful states in enrolling consumers through the federal exchange," Walker wrote.

In addition, Walker wrote that he would welcome Baldwin's help to ensure "more timely cooperation" from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, as well as to resolve "conflicting responses" from the feds on the option of using available tax credits for insurance plans not on the Obamacare exchange. Insurance Commissioner Ted Nickel wrote in a separate letter to federal officials that CMS and the Treasury department indicated they could not authorize that request -- despite the U.S. Health and Human Services Department's allowing those unable to enroll in the exchange to use tax credits for other plans.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

 8:20 AM 

Feds seek dismissal of Johnson's Obamacare lawsuit

The federal government has urged a court to dismiss U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson's lawsuit over coverage of congressional staffers through Obamacare, arguing he hasn't suffered any harm because of the law.

The government's motion, filed Monday, argues Johnson and his aide -- also part of the suit -- haven't argued the regs have had an adverse effect on their own health coverage. Rather, they allege other injuries such as making them "complicit" in what they believe is a violation of the law and the situation threatens Johnson's "credibility and reputation" among constituents.

But the government says those charges don't rise to the level needed to give Johnson standing to sue over the regulations.

"The Supreme Court and the Seventh Circuit have held time and again that a mere interest in seeing laws obeyed is not a 'legally protected' interest that can support standing, and that personal offense or indignation at a supposed transgression of law is not a 'concrete and particularized' injury," government lawyers wrote in the brief.

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, filed the suit in January against the Office of Personnel Management. He charged the agency's determination that staffers could continue to receive subsidies for insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act's exchanges violates the health care law.

Johnson said the government didn't focus on the substance of his lawsuit in its filing.

"That is because it is very difficult for the administration to defend this highly political executive action when millions of ordinary Americans are suffering under the full harsh realities of Obamacare," Johnson said. "Whether or not I have demonstrated sufficient harm to obtain standing before the court is a disputable question. What is beyond dispute is the significant damage that already has been done to real people as a direct result of Obamacare."


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

 8:22 AM 

Baldwin questions Walker on BadgerCare transition

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is asking Walker for an update on his plan to transition some 77,000 Wisconsinites from BadgerCare to the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchanges.

Walker and GOP lawmakers agreed to delay by three months his plan to move those residents off BadgerCare and into the exchanges because of problems with the Obamacare rollout. That transition is expected to begin at the end of March.

Baldwin, D-Madison, has been a critic of Walker's approach and noted in a letter to Walker she believes he "took our state taxpayers down a fiscally irresponsible path."

She wrote as a condition of the feds' approval for Walker's plan, the state was supposed to track those who transitioned from BadgerCare to the exchanges. She requested an immediate report on the status of the 77,000 residents.

"If you keep your word and abide by the public reporting and constituent communications requirements in the CMS approval, it will be a positive step in keeping your promise to cut Wisconsin's uninsured rate in half," Baldwin wrote. "If, on the other hand, you do not keep your word, our state will have far more uninsured individuals than we should at the beginning of April."

Walker's administration said it planned to respond to Baldwin's letter. It also said the state should have updated data on those who transitioned to the exchanges in early April but noted the feds have been unable to say when they'll be able to help with the necessary data match.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

 9:49 AM 

Pocan, Ribble tout efforts to increase bipartisanship


U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan and Reid Ribble talked up their efforts to reach across the aisle Monday, bemoaning what they said is a partisan divide that has gripped Congress.

Appearing at a Marquette University Law School "On the Issues" event, Pocan, D-Madison, said the polarization became clear as soon as he arrived in Washington, D.C., for orientation and training. He said members were immediately separated by political party for all but one dinner and one reception so "they taught us bad behavior not even on Day One, but before Day One."

Ribble started a group called the No Labels Problem Solvers, which brings together Republicans and Democrats for informal discussions. He said those who want to join have to bring a member along from the other party.

The group now has 92 members.

"One reason you can't find agreement in Congress is because hardly anybody looks for it," said Ribble, R-Sherwood. "I just decided I was going to look for it."

Pocan said he's raised eyebrows for his working relationship with Republicans like Ribble and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan in DC and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and former Rep. Scott Suder in Madison.

"I still get people who want me to fight in a different way," he said. "I'll fight like hell; I'm a great street fighter when I need to be. But other times, you can get things done in a different way."

Ribble concedes he's also gotten pushback.

"When I'm approached with that attitude from my conservative colleagues, my response is, 'What is it that you believe, as a conservative American, that you so lack confidence in that you're fearful of having me take those ideas into a room and debate them?'" Ribble said. "Disagreement is OK. Diversity is good for us."

Ribble and Pocan say they genuinely agree on certain issues. For example, both call for an overhaul of the way legislative districts are drawn.

Ribble lamented that "gerrymandering has been taken to an art form" in some areas and said it needs to be a bipartisan or independent system.

Pocan said redistricting has led to very few competitive districts and "allowing a kind of lopsided conversation that happens with the Tea Party -- 30 or 40 people dominating the conversation."

Still, both lawmakers said they often vote in opposite ways. For example, Pocan voted against the budget, which received bipartisan support in the House.

"The problem was, the budget was still a bad budget," said Pocan. "It was an austerity budget, and I hated it."

Ribble said his vote to end the government shutdown was controversial among his fellow Republicans, but he insists his constituents favored the move, based on phone calls he made that evening to as many homes in his district as possible.

"I had about 20,000 people on the phone," he said. "Boom, boom, boom, for one hour, I listened. It was 80 percent positive and 20 percent negative."

-- By Kay Nolan
For WisPolitics.com


Friday, March 14, 2014

 4:04 PM 

Baldwin offers workplace harassment bill

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin has announced legislation that she says would restore workplace protections undermined by a 2013 Supreme Court decision.

The Fair Employment Protection Act -- co-authored with U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and U.S. Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., and Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. -- would stipulate when employers could be held responsible for harassment in the workplace.

Baldwin, D-Madison, said in a statement that a ruling in Vance v. Ball State University last year applied heightened legal obligations to prevent harassment only to those with the ability to hire or fire employees. Baldwin argues those obligations are also needed for others that have "the power to control a worker's daily work life, but not the power to hire or fire."

"Unfortunately, workplace harassment remains an unacceptable reality that threatens the economic security of far too many people, particularly women, working to build a better future for themselves and their families," Baldwin said.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

 3:59 PM 

Johnson heads to Ukraine

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, is heading to the Ukraine as part of a Senate delegation, according to national reports.

The group, led by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is scheduled to meet with leaders of the embattled nation's interim government and other groups.

McCain and Johnson -- both members of the Foreign Relations Committee -- will be joined by fellow Republicans John Barrasso of Wyoming, Jeff Flake of Arizona and John Hoeven of North Dakota, plus Democrats Richard Durbin of Illinois, Christopher Murphy of Connecticut and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

 8:12 AM 

Wis. senators back bill targeting military sexual assaults

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson yesterday joined in the Senate's unanimous support for legislation requiring changes in the way the military handles sexual assaults.

Baldwin, D-Madison, said ahead of the vote the system for addressing sexual assaults in the military is broken.

“Our service men and women deserve better and I am pleased that we are taking action,” she said.

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said the changes will strengthen the voice of victims.

“The men and women serving in our armed forces are the finest among us. We owe them our best effort,” he said.


Monday, March 10, 2014

 8:13 AM 

Ryan downplays 'battle of ideas' in GOP

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, downplayed differences within the GOP Sunday, calling them nothing more than disagreements over tactics.

Speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation" yesterday, Ryan echoed the theme of his speech at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference.

"I called it the 'Battle of Ideas.' It's creative tension, and I don't think there's really this vast civil war in the Republican Party that like many in the left likes to suggest there is," Ryan said.

The House Budget chair also deflected a question about running for president, saying he planned to sit down with his wife in 2015 to discuss it.

Ryan also criticized President Barack Obama for his approach to Russia while arguing Vladimir Putin's political weak spots should be exploited. He said that includes targeting "some of the oligarchs around him that are his enablers and he is their enablers." He suggested going after their ability to travel and their financial holdings overseas.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

 2:01 PM 

Sensenbrenner seeks cancellation of trade mission to Russia

U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner today called on President Obama to postpone a September trade mission to Russia in light of recent developments in Ukraine.

In a letter to the president, Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, writes that the Commerce Department-led mission to Moscow and St. Petersburg -- announced earlier this week -- "stands in direct conflict" with both congressional efforts to enact sanctions against Russia and the administration's boycott of the G-8 Summit.

"We need actions as well as words," Sensenbrenner writes. "I respectfully request that you take immediate action to recall this announcement and stop the Department of Commerce from leading the trade mission."


 10:47 AM 

Ryan tells CPAC the 'center of gravity is shifting'

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan told the Conservative Political Action Conference today that momentum is on the side of Republicans heading into the 2014 elections.

Ryan, R-Janesville, called the GOP "the party of ideas," while arguing Dems would overreach in a "50-yard dash" campaign.

"They’re going to run from their record," Ryan said. "They’re going to point fingers, and they’re going to try and make us the villain in their morality play."

The congressman called President Obama's agenda a "total fiasco" and said Dems' focus on income inequality shows "they’re out of ideas."

"I’ve been in politics long enough to know that if you throw your weight around like this, you will get thrown out of office," Ryan said. "That is not just how a majority party acts."

The congressman also rejected arguments from Dems that the GOP is engaged in a "civil war" between tea party conservatives and establishment Republicans, referring to it instead as "creative tension."

"What I see is a vibrant debate," Ryan said. "We are figuring out the best way to apply our principles to the challenges of the day."

Ryan added the debate is often about tactics rather than policy, and praised proposals from several fellow Republican lawmakers on a wide range of issues, including the immigration reform proposal backed U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida -- also considered a frontrunner for the party's 2016 presidential nod.

He also compared the "battle of ideas" over his budget proposals as chairman of the House Budget Committee in recent years to the Reagan Revolution, noting that cutting taxes was considered controversial at that time in GOP circles.

"When I introduced my budget for the first time 2008, I had just eight co-sponsors. ... Then the Tea Party members got elected, and now the House has passed it three years in a row," Ryan said. "This is how it always is: you fight it out, you figure out what works, you come together. Then you win.

"It’s messy, it's noisy and it's a little bit uncomfortable, but the center of gravity is shifting."


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

 10:55 PM 

Sensenbrenner defends VRA changes

U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner defended his proposed changes to the federal Voting Rights Act after coming under fire from a conservative activist group.

Video released today by Project Veritas shows founder James O'Keefe -- who gained notoriety after secretly filming ACORN workers in 2009 -- questioning Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, during a town hall meeting last month in Ixonia.

A statement from the group accuses Sensenbrenner of "lying to his constituents about the protections of the Voting Rights Act, or lack thereof for white voters."

Sensenbrenner responded that under the bill, citizens or the Department of Justice would be able to bring actions alleging voter discrimination "against any racial group, including white voters."


Monday, March 3, 2014

 10:08 AM 

Baldwin: Senate sets template for compromise

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin concedes that after more than a year in her new role as the junior senator from Wisconsin, it's better in the majority.

The freshman Democrat from Madison went from minority status as the 2nd CD rep in the House to one of 100 in the Senate, where she has occasionally wielded the gavel as a member of the Democratic majority. But she told a WisPolitics.com gathering in D.C. last week that different dynamics in the Senate have also helped develop legislation able to move through a contentious Congress.

"The only major things that we have gotten through this session, and can get through in the future, are issues around which there's some bipartisan agreement. And that's what we've shown in the Senate," Baldwin said during a WisPolitics.com breakfast at the Monocle restaurant on Wednesday.

The main example, Baldwin said, was the immigration reform proposal developed by the Senate's "Gang of Eight" that passed with a "pretty strong bipartisan vote" last summer.

But that bill -- like most others backed by Dem senators in the current session -- has been unable to gain traction in the GOP-run House. Baldwin called recent reports on immigration reform stalling in the House "disappointing" but said she hasn't given up hope of ultimate passage.

The reason, Baldwin said, is the House GOP leadership's occasional willingness to deviate from the so-called "Hastert Rule" -- a self-imposed requirement that at least half of caucus members support legislation before bringing it up for a vote. When that happens, minority Dems can join in and help move legislation.

"And that's how we would see immigration reform," Baldwin said.

Although House Speaker John Boehner hasn't said he'd be willing to ignore the Hastert Rule on immigration, Baldwin said, "This is something that is politically important to the Republican Party to achieve, even if they achieve it in a very bipartisan way, and I think he recognizes that more than some of his rank-and-file members."

See more from the event here.


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