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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

 1:52 PM 

Wis. senators split on minimum wage bill

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson split on a procedural vote today as the Senate blocked a measure to raise the minimum wage.

The Senate voted 54-42 to override a GOP filibuster, falling short of the three-fifths majority needed to move the bill forward. The vote was largely along party lines, with only Bob Corker, R-Tenn., voting with Dems in favor of the motion.

The bill would have gradually raised the minimum wage from the current $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour, and index it to the inflation rate thereafter.

Baldwin, D-Madison, noted in a floor speech that it's been nearly seven years -- and a financial crisis -- since lawmakers last raised the minimum wage.

"It’s simple. The time is now to give hard working Americans a raise," Baldwin said. "We can do that if both parties work together to reward hard work, so an honest day’s work pays more."

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, countered the move would lead to job losses, calling it "Russian roulette for the working poor."

"About 16.5 million of them will get a raise, minus the higher prices they’ll pay because stores and restaurants will have higher labor costs," Johnson said. "But 500,000 of them will see their pay will fall 100 percent. It’s a game of chance they didn’t ask for."


 10:05 AM 

Ribble hails proposal to fund LCS program

U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Sherwood, is praising a House committee's proposal to fully fund the Littoral Combat Ship program in his district.

The Obama administration has sought to pare back the program, proposing to cut this year's order of ships to three from the original order of four.

But the House Armed Services Committee yesterday released a proposal to keep funding for four ships. One would be built at Marinette Marine Corp., while a second would be constructed by an Alabama company. The committee proposal would authorize funding for a second ship to be started at each facility.

"While I'm pleased that we've been able to fully fund two vessels and partially fund another two, I will continue to work in the weeks ahead to fight for the LCS program and work to hold the government accountable for the promises it has made to the people of Marinette," Ribble said.

Ribble and other Wisconsin lawmakers sent a letter to the committee earlier this week urging it to back four ships.

The proposal would still have to pass both houses before it could go the president for consideration.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

 8:23 AM 

Wis. members urge preservation of LCS program

U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Sherwood, and five others in Wisconsin’s congressional delegation have sent letters to colleagues urging them to preserve the Littoral Combat Ship program at current levels.

The letters to the members of House Appropriations and Armed Services committees ask members to stick with the four ships originally planned for fiscal year 2015 despite moves by the Obama administration to pare back the program.

The letters argue maintaining the program at current levels could help save money over the life of the program and cite two admirals who praised the ship’s performance.

“We in Congress should listen to those who are tasked with managing these programs, those who know them best and use them daily,” the letters argue.

The letters were also signed by U.S. Reps. Sean Duffy, R-Weston; Ron Kind, D-La Crosse; Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee; Mark Pocan, D-Madison; and Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac.


Monday, April 28, 2014

 8:16 AM 

Johnson says he still hopes to replace key parts of Obamacare

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson says improved Healthcare.gov enrollment numbers haven't changed his stance on Obamacare.

Turning from repeal to reform, Johnson, R-Oshkosh, told Sunday's “Upfront with Mike Gousha” he hopes to pass legislation that will replace key parts of the Affordable Care Act.

“I recognize reality; Obamacare exists, people are on the policies right now, so it’s not a piece of paper that you can just repeal and it goes away. We have to deal with that reality,” Johnson said on the program, produced in partnership with WisPolitics.com.

The changes would include the removal of the individual healthcare mandate, which Johnson said is responsible for driving up costs and terminating existing plans. He said people should have the option to decline insurance or select now-eliminated plans.

“The problem with Obamacare is it’s just so coercive,” Johnson said. “It’s not about freedom of choice, it’s about the geniuses in Washington telling you what your treatments are going to be, what kind of insurance you have to buy.”


Thursday, April 24, 2014

 2:05 PM 

Johnson: Homeland Security issues persisted 'far too long'

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said problems in the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general's office "were allowed to persist for far too long" following the release of a Senate subcommittee report today.

The report from the Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight -- announced today by Johnson, R-Oshkosh, and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. -- concluded that Charles Edwards jeopardized the independence of the department's OIG during his tenure as acting inspector general from 2011 to 2013.

The panel found that Edwards had "frequent communications and personal friendships with senior DHS officials" and directed that reports be "altered or delayed to accommodate senior DHS officials." The report also said Edwards did not obtain independent legal advice and did not recuse himself from potential conflicts of interest with his wife's employment.

Johnson noted he had received "dozens of allegations" about Edwards' conduct, which began during an investigation of the hiring of prostitutes by Secret Service personnel in Colombia in April 2012.

"An Office of Inspector General is intended to be beyond reproach," Johnson said.


 9:56 AM 

Baldwin asks White House to address China currency manipulation

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is urging the Obama administration to go after China for currency manipulation.

The Madison Dem sent a letter to the president arguing the U.S. Department of Treasury once again failed to cite China in an annual report Congress uses to determine if others are manipulating their currencies "despite consistent and overwhelming evidence" it was doing so.

"China's currency manipulation gives its businesses an advantage at the expense of American companies," Baldwin wrote. "It is time that we hold China accountable and level the playing field so American businesses and workers have a chance to succeed."


 8:22 AM 

Baldwin: Americans need to 'take stock' of Obamacare successes

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin on Wednesday refuted criticism that the Affordable Care Act hurts the federal budget, saying Americans "need to absolutely take stock" of the act's success, especially in expanding coverage and bringing needed insurance reform.

Baldwin, who sits on the Senate Budget Committee, said the nation's deficit and budget concerns are constantly discussed. But she said last year's government shutdown "was such a disaster" that members are more cautious.

"Some of the decisions that would be implicit in a grand bargain or say, passing (GOP Congressman) Paul Ryan's budget would have such a chilling effect on our economy that it would be devastating," Baldwin, D-Madison, said at Marquette University Law School's "On the Issues" series.

Afterward, Baldwin also took issue with Paul's comments on immigration.

Paul said on a Milwaukee talk radio show he thinks Congress could agree on immigration reform, but if President Obama acts unilaterally through executive order it would "destroy" those chances.

Baldwin, who earlier noted that Obama took executive action on immigration by enacting the DREAM Act, told reporters there are "some isolated things the president can do."

"Ultimately, it's on the shoulders of the Congress and at this point, on the shoulders of the House of Representatives, to get the job done, as the Senate did pass, on a broadly bipartisan basis last, a comprehensive immigration reform bill," she said.

Baldwin told the audience she sees an impasse, however, on immigration reform among Republicans.

"Some say this is a must for the Republican Party to be relevant in national elections moving forward," she said. But in contrast, she said, Tea Party-influenced members are saying, "It makes no difference in my political future or perhaps, even advancing it might be harmful."

-- By Kay Nolan
For WisPolitics.com


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

 6:15 PM 

Rand Paul: School vouchers integral to future of education

Declaring no one in Washington, D.C., "knows a damn thing about education," GOP U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said he sees Wisconsin's voucher program and those like it as an integral part of the future.

Paul, R-Ky., told a school choice roundtable hosted by Hispanics for School Choice and the LIBRE Initiative at St. Anthony's school in Milwaukee that various online education efforts demonstrate how technology could help the best teachers reach a wider audience.

He said changes in classroom format and function aren't a threat to the role of traditional teachers.

"We need to convince teachers that we're on their side; it's not a Republican and Democrat thing," Paul said. "Teachers will be allowed to develop new types of teaching, and the ones that are successful, we'll expand upon that. ... It's more power to teachers, not less."

The possible 2016 presidential contender criticized federal oversight of education, saying each school district and state has differing needs.

"Another word for school choice is innovation ... you don't want rigidity from Washington telling you that you can't flip the class and maybe watch a video at home and then come to class for help with your homework," Paul said. "That won't happen if the controls are so rigid that they don't allow innovation."

St. Anthony's President Zeus Rodriguez said flexibility helped his private Catholic school meet the needs of students as enrollment grew over the last decade.

"It's not so much about what other people are doing; we need that flexibility to succeed with the children," Rodriguez said.

Paul expressed support for the use of public money for private and religious schools, drawing a comparison between the G.I. Bill, which can be applied toward tuition at accredited faith-based institutions, and vouchers for use at schools like St. Anthony's.

"My point is: it's not the public's money," Paul said. "I let you have some of it through taxes, but it's my money."

Calling problems with crime and violence in the nation a "crisis of faith," Paul said he would like to give parents the option of having religion play a role in education. He said government should strive to provide education that "works for everyone."

"We're talking about something fundamentally American, and that's choice," Paul said. "Nobody in Washington knows a damn thing about education."

- By Samantha Nash
For WisPolitics.com


 8:08 AM 

Johnson encouraged by GOP colleagues' support of OPM lawsuit

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is encouraged by the support of some GOP colleagues in his challenge of the Obama administration over the Affordable Care Act, adding the supporters are brave to join him in a suit that "is not popular inside the Beltway."

A dozen senators and 26 House members have filed a brief in support of the lawsuit.

"I'm so pleased that 38 of my colleagues understand what is really at stake here," Johnson said.

The Oshkosh Republican and staffer Brooke Ericson are suing the Office of Personnel Management for its ruling that allows the federal government to subsidize health insurance for lawmakers and some congressional staffers on a tax-preferred basis -- something private employers cannot do.

The issue was debated during passage of the bill and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, offered an amendment that would have allowed tax-preferred, employer contributions. But Democrats turned it down, Johnson said.

Then the administration, via OPM, gave Congress a "backroom" benefit with the ruling.

"It's a very poorly written law," Johnson said. "But if you don't like it, change the law. People don't have the political courage to change the law; they're just looking for a backroom deal."

The OPM ruling "fixed" the problem without people having to "incur the political pain to do this the right way," he said.

"Staffers hate the idea of my lawsuit succeeding" because ultimately they would have to pay more for their health insurance, Johnson said.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

 9:35 AM 

Johnson: Staffer health care subsidies drive 'wedge' between senator and constituents

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson argues in a new court filing that health insurance subsidies for congressional staffers under Obamacare "drives a wedge between him and his constituents," causing him harm.

The Oshkosh Republican sued the Office of Personnel Management, alleges 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.

The Obama administration has countered Johnson lacks standing to bring the suit, among other things. Johnson's filing sees to bolster his argument that he has standing to challenge the provision. That includes his argument that the decision gives Johnson "favored status" that harms his reputation with constituents and hurts him electorally.

"Obtaining 'more' for themselves and staff than they are entitled to and being denied a status and relationship with the public to which they are entitled is harm," the filing argued.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

 5:24 PM 

Wis. delegations questions DVA transition

Wisconsin's House delegation is questioning plans by federal officials to address a backlog in veterans claims.

In a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Erik Shinseki, the lawmakers express concern that Wisconsin veterans could be adversely affected by DVA's transition to a "National Work Queue," in which Milwaukee's DVA office would be forced to take on claims from out-of-state offices with less successful track records.

They note that claims classified as backlogged -- delayed more than 125 days -- nearly doubled between May and September of 2013 as the Milwaukee office took on additional cases.

"Our Wisconsin Veterans are lucky to have a devoted team of VA employees that work hard to keep up with the demand of casework," the lawmakers write. "However, we are concerned about the priority out Veterans will receive as the NWQ is implemented."

DVA officials said earlier this month that the claims backlog dropped by 44 percent in March compared to March of 2013.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

 2:53 PM 

Duffy calls for end to estate tax

U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy today asked House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp to consider eliminating the estate tax as part of a comprehensive tax reform package.

In a letter co-signed by 59 of his House colleagues, Duffy, R-Weston, said the "death tax" places a "significant burden on small businesses and farms," and that while he appreciated Camp's proposal to keep the tax at a permanently set rate, "we would encourage you to consider repealing this tax altogether."

"The tax punishes the hard work and savings of parents wishing to leave behind a better life for their children and it seriously affects family farms and family-owned businesses," the lawmakers wrote to Camp, R-Mich. "This tax only accounts for around 1% of federal revenue and we believe it’s an unnecessary tax on America's job creators."

Fellow Wisconsin U.S. Reps. Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac, and Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, were among those signing onto the letter.


Friday, April 11, 2014

 8:42 AM 

Johnson offers bill to combat identity theft

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has introduced legislation that would permit the IRS to alert taxpayers if the agency uncovers identity theft.

Although the IRS opens investigations when separate tax returns are filed using the same Social Security number, Johnson said, the agency's privacy rules currently do not allow it to notify affected taxpayers.

The Social Security Identity Defense Act of 2014 -- offered with U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. -- would also allow the IRS to share findings with law enforcement and establish additional privacy safeguards.

"It seems so simple that the federal government would tell a taxpayer when it learns she or he is the victim of a crime," said Johnson, R-Oshkosh. "The rules keeping the IRS from giving that warning were not helping anyone. I’m pleased to be able to clear that obstacle."


Thursday, April 10, 2014

 1:54 PM 

Wis. delegation splits along party lines on Ryan budget

Wisconsin's House delegation today split along party lines as lawmakers passed the budget authored by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan.

All five Wisconsin Republicans supported the Ryan budget, while the state's three Dems were opposed. The bill passed 219-205, with 12 Republicans joining Dems in voting against the measure.

Ryan, R-Janesville, said in remarks prior to the vote that his proposal would empower the public rather than the government, slamming Dem alternatives as "paternalistic, arrogant and downright condescending."

"Who knows better? The people or Washington?" Ryan asked. "We have made our choice with this budget. I trust the American people to make theirs."

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, countered that the GOP's 2015 budget protects "special interests in lieu of middle class working Americans and our vulnerable populations."

"There were clear winners and losers today. Unfortunately, the winners were large corporations and the wealthy," Moore said. "The losers included everyone else."


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

 5:15 PM 

Baldwin, Johnson divided on Paycheck Fairness Act

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson split today on an "equal pay" bill in the Senate.

Republicans blocked debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which aims to provide pay equity for women, on a 53-44 vote. Baldwin voted with Democrats to proceed to a vote while Johnson voted with Republicans to block that effort. Baldwin slammed Republicans for the move.

"It's time for my Republican colleagues to put politics aside and stop ignoring pay inequity," said Baldwin, D-Madison. "In America today, millions of women are working full-time, yet far too many are barely getting by, and far too many women and children are living in poverty. That's simply wrong."

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said he believes in the concept of "equal pay for equal work," adding 73 percent of his Senate staffers are women. However, he argued the bill before the Senate would do nothing to further that goal.

"The Paycheck Fairness Act is nothing more than a cynical political exercise that, if enacted, would severely hamper merit-based pay systems and cause workplace conflict," Johnson said. "This bill would harm our economy and result in fewer opportunities and downward pressure on wages for all Americans."


 11:40 AM 

Petri bill would authorize 'income share agreements' for college costs

U.S. Rep. Tom Petri today introduced legislation he says would help provide an alternative to student loans.

The bill, dubbed the "Investing in Student Success Act," would allow individuals or organizations to pay college costs for students who agree to give them a share of their post-graduation income for a certain length of time.

Petri, R-Fond du Lac, partnered with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on the bill. The authors noted that such "income share agreements" are a college financing option that some already use.

But by explicitly making those agreements legal, that route would become more popular and help more students finance their college costs, they said.

“Far too many students struggle to obtain enough financing through traditional sources to pay for college, and many others are saddled with unaffordable payments after graduation,” Petri said. “These plans would help all students get the financing they need -- including students from disadvantaged backgrounds -- but without the anxiety that comes with traditional loans.”


 10:34 AM 

Ribble, Pocan seek to expand CBO projections

U.S. Reps. Reid Ribble and Mark Pocan today introduced legislation to allow Congressional Budget Office to make fiscal projections decades into the future.

"A 10-year budget window is simply not capable of capturing the total benefit of federal health research and prevention programs," said Ribble, R-Sherwood, noting that Congress' nonpartisan fiscal analysts can currently offer five- or 10-year assessments.

The bill would allow members of Congress to request analyses of 50 years or longer, and would make long-term scoring the priority within the CBO.

Pocan, D-Madison, said in a conference call that the measure would help make sure "we can get a long-range idea of what investments now really do" -- particularly in the area of health care, with the lawmakers noting that chronic conditions currently take up more than three-quarters of all health care spending.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

 5:06 PM 

Kind pension legislation signed into law

President Obama has signed pension reform legislation co-authored by U.S. Rep. Ron Kind into law, the La Crosse Democrat announced today.

The Cooperative and Small Employer Charity Pension Flexibility Act -- co-authored with U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind. -- creates an exemption for cooperatives and charity organizations that offer pensions, which Kind said have been jeopardized by both current regulations and suppressed interest rates.

Kind said those groups are currently required to fund their pensions at the same levels as higher risk plans despite having "virtually no risk of default."

"This is a concrete step toward ensuring that these pension plans will remain intact and robustly funded, so employees can count on their hard-earned pension benefits being there when they retire," Kind said.


 1:32 PM 

Duffy introduces legislation to maintain Internet policy

U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy today announced legislation he says would maintain the country's responsibility for critical Internet functions.

Duffy, R-Weston, said the bill -- dubbed the Global Internet Freedom Act -- would prohibit the Obama administration from ceding control of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority as planned next year. The IANA is responsible for allocating IP addresses, as well as other Internet resources.

"As Americans, we value our Constitutional right of Freedom of Speech and have promoted this value throughout the world," Duffy said in a statement. "We should not give up our stewardship of the internet so that the United Nations or countries like China or Russia, that do not hold free speech in the same regard, can have the opportunity to take control."


 9:39 AM 

Baldwin, Johnson split on extending unemployment benefits

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson split on a 59-38 vote to extend unemployment benefits.

Baldwin voted yesterday for a bill extending unemployment benefits until May, while Johnson voted against the measure. In a tweet following the vote, Baldwin hailed it as an "important step" and called on the House to pass the measure.

Johnson said he voted against the extension because the offsetting spending cuts provided by Dems were a "mismatch" since they were spread out over 10 years.

"What the federal government needs to do is to start prioritizing spending. If Harry Reid and the supporters of this bill were truly serious, they would have found lower priority spending to cut as a way to protect our children and grandchildren from the further bankrupting of America," Johnson said.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

 11:45 AM 

Wis. senators oppose Medicare reimbursement bill

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, voted against legislation Monday evening that delays cuts in Medicare reimbursements to physicians.

The Senate passed the bill 64-35, sending it to the president's desk for signature.

But Baldwin -- one of just six Dems to vote against the bill -- called the measure "missed opportunity" to reduce costs and overhaul the "flawed Medicare payment formula."

"Congress has made great bipartisan, bicameral progress to enact real and lasting reforms that could reduce Medicare costs and improve the quality of care for today’s seniors," Baldwin said. "But this deal is another band-aid that kicks the can down the road with a 17th patch, which guarantees that we’ll be back in the same place in one year."


 11:27 AM 

Ryan unveils 2015 budget plan

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan today introduced his proposed budget for fiscal year 2015, touting the plan as an example "that it’s not too late to tackle our country’s most pressing challenges."

"This is a plan to balance the budget and create jobs, and it builds off a simple fact: We can’t keep spending money we don’t have," Ryan, R-Janesville, said in a statement.

Ryan said his latest "Path to Prosperity" proposal would cut government spending by $5.1 trillion over the next ten years, balancing the budget and beginning to pay down the nation's debt within that timeframe. The House Budget chairman also said the plan would overhaul the nation's tax code, reform the country's safety net and repeal Obamacare, "clearing the way for patient-centered health-care reform."

The White House countered that Ryan's proposal represents "the same old top-down approach," arguing it would raise taxes on middle-class families and force deep cuts to investments in infrastructure, education and research.

"Because of a stubborn unwillingness to cut the deficit in a balanced way by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and well connected, the House Republican Budget would slow the economy, stack the deck against the middle class, and threaten the guaranteed benefits seniors have paid for and earned," the White House responded in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison and Ryan's colleague on the Budget Committee, added that the proposal is "more of the same reckless and irresponsible choices -- more conservative, more austerity, more wrong-headed cuts to vital programs such as food stamps, Medicare and Medicaid, and more tax giveaways for oil companies and big corporations which outsource jobs."


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