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Friday, May 30, 2014

 8:21 AM 

Ribble offers legislation allowing vets to get care outside VA

U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble has introduced legislation he says would give veterans greater access to health care outside the embattled U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Ribble, R-Sherwood, said his bill would allow veterans to receive care from a private doctor for any condition a VA facility would normally provide, as well as permit veterans to return to VA care at any time.

The legislation comes in the wake of a report detailing widespread problems at a VA facility in Phoenix. U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, has called for a bipartisan investigation of the agency, while U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Weston, has called for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

"The status quo is simply unacceptable, and our veterans should not be forced to wait years for the VA to someday clean up its act," Ribble said. "They deserve timely care now."


Thursday, May 29, 2014

 8:17 AM 

Duffy calls for VA secretary's resignation

U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy became the first member of the state's congressional delegation to call for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Yesterday's call came after the release of a critical inspector general report detailing problems at the VA hospital in Phoenix.

"Unfortunately, by failing to carry out the mission of the VA, he has lost my trust, but more importantly, that of our veterans," said Duffy, R-Weston. "It is time for Secretary Shinseki to step aside and make way for new leadership at the VA that can restore trust and return our veterans to the high level of care that they have earned."

Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, called for a bipartisan investigation into care at VA hospitals.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

 8:12 AM 

Kind calls for bipartisan investigation of VA problems

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind said Tuesday "much more needs to be done" regarding delays at federal VA health care centers, calling for a bipartisan commission to investigate the issue.

Kind, D-La Crosse, suggested a few names, all with military backgrounds, for the commission: former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former U.S. Sens. Bob Dole, R-Kan., Jim Webb, D-Va., and Max Cleland, D-Ga.

"Long wait times for care can never be the norm of our veterans. And if any efforts were made to conceal the extent of the problem, those responsible need to be held accountable immediately," Kind said. "Forming an independent, bipartisan commission would bring needed urgency to this problem. .... The VA was right to launch an audit of its own services, but much more needs to be done."


Friday, May 23, 2014

 10:05 AM 

Pocan letter condemns sharia law in Brunei amid trade negotiations

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan is circulating a letter among his colleagues expressing concern over the implementation of Islamic law in Brunei and its impact on trade talks.

In the draft letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, Pocan writes that the U.S. should insist the southeast Asian nation address potential human rights issues prior to entering into trade negotiations. Brunei is among 12 nations, including the U.S., looking to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.

"Brunei's adoption of the revised penal code legalizes violence against its citizens, constituting torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment," the letter reads. "The United States must make it clear that we will not tolerate such abuses."

The letter currently has more than 20 members signed on and will continue circulating through mid-June. Other House members leading the effort with Pocan include Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and Henry Waxman, D-Calif.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

 8:22 PM 

Wis. delegation divided on defense bill, largely supportive of surveillance measure

Wisconsin's House delegation split 4-3 along party lines over a defense bill that would, among other priorities, fully fund the littoral combat ship program.

The $601 billion defense authorization bill, which cleared the House 325-98, includes full funding for two LCS ships and advance procurement for another two. The ships are building in Wisconsin and Alabama.

U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Sherwood, praised the vote and pledged to continue fighting to fund the LCS program.

"Marinette Marine and its workforce have done outstanding work building these vessels which help keep our country safe and the government must stand by its commitment," Ribble said. "The U.S. Navy continues to tell us in Congress that they need these ships to defend our nation, so we must continue to enact procurement policies that are driven by our national security needs."

U.S. Reps. Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac; Paul Ryan, R-Janesville; and Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls; joined Ribble in supporting the bill. U.S. Reps. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse; Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee; and Mark Pocan, D-Madison; all opposed the bill, while U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Weston, missed the vote.

Kind said in a statement that the bill lacks structural and procurement reforms, and he criticized the elimination of the military's biodiesel program.

"It’s a shame that a few people opposed to biodiesel for political reasons were able to stand in the way of increasing our energy independence," Kind said.

Meanwhile, all but one member of the state's delegation backed passage of legislation targeting domestic surveillance.

The House passed the USA FREEDOM Act 303-121, with the state's three Dems joining Sensenbrenner, Petri and Ryan in support.

Sensenbrenner, the bill's author, said on the House floor that although he wished the bill did more, "we have the opportunity to make a powerful statement: Congress does not support bulk collection."

Ribble voted against the bill, while Duffy did not vote.


 11:41 AM 

Johnson criticizes Rockefeller over 'race card'

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson criticized the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chairman Wednesday over comments he said "basically imply that I'm a racist because I oppose this health care law."

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., criticized opponents of the Obamacare law during a committee hearing, particularly those "who've made up their mind that they don't want it to work because they don't like the president."

"Maybe he's the wrong color, something of that sort," Rockefeller said. "I've seen a lot of that, and I know a lot of that to be true. It's not something you're meant to talk about in public."

The drew a rebuke from Johnson, who was the only other senator at the hearing.

"I didn't object to this because of the race of the president," said Johnson, R-Oshkosh. "I objected to this because it is an assault on our freedom."


 8:14 AM 

Baldwin presses Walker over BadgerCare numbers

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is pushing Walker to detail what happened to the almost 63,000 who lost their BadgerCare coverage.

Walker announced earlier this week almost 82,000 childless adults had enrolled in BadgerCare as new eligibility standards kicked in. The change also resulted in almost 63,000 losing coverage as Walker's administration sought to move them into the federal health care exchanges.

The state said it was still trying to determine how many of the 63,000 dropped from the rolls bought health care through the Affordable Care Act.

"Without this information, Wisconsin taxpayers cannot hold you accountable to your promise to use Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act Marketplace to cut Wisconsin's uninsured rate in half," wrote Baldwin, D-Madison.

Baldwin also noted a May 30 deadline for former BadgerCare enrollees to obtain coverage through the exchange.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

 2:47 PM 

Kind co-authors bill to apply Social Security benefits to same-sex spouses

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind today announced legislation that would apply Social Security benefits equally same-sex spouses, regardless of whether their marriages are recognized in their home states.

Kind, D-La Crosse, said the bill -- offered with fellow U.S. Reps. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., Allyson Schwartz, D-Penn., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. -- would recognize "every individual should have the comfort of knowing that their union will be treated equally under the law."

"The peace of mind and economic security provided by Social Security spousal benefits should be enjoyed by every married couple who pays into the system," Kind said.

A Senate companion bill has been offered by U.S. Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

 8:25 AM 

Liberal group files complaint over Johnson lawsuit

The liberal group One Wisconsin Now has filed a complaint with the FEC accusing U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of failing to disclose how he's using his campaign fund to pay for a lawsuit challenging an Obamacare provision.

A Johnson spokeswoman responded the senator has been "completely transparent" on his plans to use campaign funds for the costs.

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, filed the suit in January, but his campaign finance reports for 2013 and the first quarter of of 2014 list no expenses or incurred obligations for the suit. OWN contends in the complaint federal law requires lawmakers to report incurred obligations once a contract commences "even if the exact amount of the debt is not known at the time of the filing."

If Johnson declines to report anything until he is billed, it would allow him to shield campaign expenditures from the public eye while he's in office by waiting until his term is over to be billed, the group argued.

Johnson has teamed with the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty on the suit, which seeks to overturn a decision allowing the federal government to subsidize health insurance for federal lawmakers and some of their staffers.

"Federal campaign disclosure requirements are quite clear, actual or estimated expenditures must be reported once there is a written agreement to make a campaign expenditure," said One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross. "Sen. Johnson has crossed that threshold, admitting that he has a retainer agreement with counsel and will use campaign funds to pay bills."

Johnson spokeswoman Melinda Schnell said he has been clear his campaign will cover costs of the lawsuit and those will be reported as he pays the legal bills. She said Johnson is confident he has not violated the intent or letter of FEC regulations and the agency will rule accordingly.

"Liberal political groups are coming out of the woodwork to criticize Senator Johnson's lawsuit against this administration," Schnell said. "They obviously recognize the potential for this suit to be a landmark decision finally applying the needed check on a president who is governing unilaterally."


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

 8:14 AM 

Johnson criticizes FCC over proposed Internet regulations

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is calling on Congress to "get to work on an Internet policy that will put consumers and competition first," slamming the latest draft of so-called "net neutrality" rules from the Federal Communications Commission.

"If the last two weeks at the FCC have not underscored the need for Congress to take the lead on Internet policy, we are not sure what will," Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said in a joint statement with U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.

The senators say the FCC draft represents the third attempt in less than a decade to "regulate the Internet in some fashion," and that lawmakers should instead focus on "if we need any regulation at all, especially without a demonstrated market failure."

"We continue to believe that applying a 19th century framework to 21st century innovative technologies is not what a progressive Internet policy should look like," the senators add.


Friday, May 9, 2014

 10:15 AM 

Sensenbrenner lauds committee passage of data collection bill

U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner is lauding committee passage of legislation to overhaul federal data collection standards.

The House Intelligence Committee passed the USA FREEDOM Act via voice vote one day after the measure unanimously passed the Judiciary Committee. It would largely ban bulk collection of data by federal agencies, instead allowing the collection of certain phone records if OK'd by a judge.

"Compromises made with the Intelligence Committee are consistent with our original goals to rein in the NSA and strike the proper balance between civil liberties and national security," said Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, who introduced the bill. "I look forward to seeing the USA FREEDOM Act quickly enacted into law."


Thursday, May 8, 2014

 5:54 PM 

Pocan rips Ryan budget

Speaking during a press call today, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan criticized U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan for using numbers he says don't add up.

For example, the Madison freshman Dem said if Ryan's budget became law, the Affordable Care Act would be repealed yet the House Budget chair didn't strike the ACA's budgetary savings from his plan's bottom line.

Also, "for all the talk we hear about the deficit, their budget does not cut one special-interest tax break; not one," Pocan said.

"This is not the budget that people in Wisconsin are asking for," Pocan said, noting he and Ryan, R-Janesville, have adjoining districts and split Rock County.

Maryland's Chris Van Hollen, Ryan's Democratic counterpart on the Budget Committee, joined Pocan on the call.

Van Hollen said Pocan's membership on the committee is critical for Wisconsin as he pushes to save funding for programs, such as food stamps and the Highway Trust Fund, which Wisconsinites rely on and that Ryan would slash.


Friday, May 2, 2014

 8:18 AM 

Obama nominates Pepper to federal bench

President Barack Obama has nominated Pamela Pepper to the federal bench in the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

Pepper is the chief bankruptcy judge in the Eastern District, and previously served the district as an assistant U.S. attorney from 1994-1997.

"Judge Pepper has a long and distinguished record of service, and I am confident she will serve on the federal district court with distinction," Obama said in a statement.

Pepper was one of three candidates -- along with Milwaukee attorney Beth Kushner and Circuit Court Judge William Pocan -- for the vacant judicial position recommended by U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson.


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