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Monday, December 29, 2014

 10:00 AM 

International role appears next for Petri

WASHINGTON, DC -- When the House of Representatives returns Jan. 6 without Rep. Tom Petri for the first time in 35 years, many might expect the veteran lawmaker to have, like so many before him, beaten a hasty path to K Street to transform his years of public service into rainmaker status at some posh lobbying firm. More likely, however, the 74-year-old Fond du Lac Republican will be doing something more in line with his Peace Corps volunteer roots.

In October he was part of a delegation dispatched by the International Republican Institute to observe Tunisia's first democratic elections, a trip reminiscent of his early years in Africa. Petri went to Kenya during college to help build community buildings through Operation Crossroads Africa. After law school the Peace Corps dispatched him to Somalia. During that time he also visited Lagos, Nigeria, Khartoum, Sudan, Uganda and Ethiopia, where he met the emperor.

Emperor Haile Selassie had lions roaming the palace as they were the symbol of the monarchy, Petri recalled. Seeing the chain around the lion's neck, a young Petri decided he would try and make the lion "roar" at him. Only after taunting the king of the jungle did he notice that the chain was not tethered to anything and that the lion was roaming freely. A groundskeeper informed him that the lions had just been fed and offered to introduce Petri to another lion with which he could get his picture taken. It was a cub.

When the chartered flight for him and other students stopped in Khartoum to refuel, they let the passengers disembark, Petri recounted. He wanted to see the city view from the observation deck, so he wandered off only to see his own flight take off. Realizing Petri missed the flight; it turned around and came back for him.

"I wasn't in the best graces for a while," Petri chuckled during a recent interview. "Those were my early adventures."

Those adventures and experiences shaped Petri's worldview and his legislative tenor.

Read more about Petri's international experience in Nicole Duran's latest DC Wrap column


Monday, December 15, 2014

 10:19 AM 

Baldwin backs spending bill; Johnson opposed

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, split on this weekend's vote that sent a controversial $1.1 trillion spending package to President Obama.

Johnson praised provisions of the bill grandfathering in weight restrictions for U.S. 41 as it becomes an interstate next year and on the littoral combat ship, which is produced at Marinette Marine and a shipyard in Alabama. But he bemoaned the process and argued it was part of why Republicans won in the fall election.

"I sincerely hope this is the last massive omnibus spending bill that will come before the U.S. Senate during my tenure," Johnson said. "This dysfunctional process of funding the federal government primarily stems from Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's mismanagement of the Senate."

Johnson was one of 20 Republicans who voted against an effort by Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee targeting Obama's executive action on immigration. It failed 22-74 in what was seen as a rebuke by Republicans to the tactics by the GOP lawmakers from Texas and Utah. Their efforts led to the unusual weekend votes.


Friday, December 12, 2014

 3:52 PM 

Baldwin headed to Appropriations Committee

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin has been appointed to the Senate Appropriations Committee in the next session of Congress, her office announced today.

Baldwin, D-Madison, said she hopes to emulate the "strong voice" provided by former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl and former U.S. Rep. Dave Obey when they serves on appropriations panels.

"I am proud to be named to the Senate Appropriations Committee and I look forward to bringing our Wisconsin values to the national conversation about how we invest in moving our economy forward," Baldwin said.

Baldwin will also continue to serve on the budget, homeland security and health committees.


 8:03 AM 

House delegation splits on spending bill

Wisconsin’s House delegation split 5-3 in a narrow vote on a last-minute spending measure, with those backing the bill calling it a necessary step to keep the government open and those opposed knocking it as laden with special interest giveaways.

Only one Wisconsin Dem backed the bill: Ron Kind of La Crosse. He was joined by Republicans Sean Duffy of Weston, Tom Petri of Fond du Lac, Reid Ribble of Sherwood, and Paul Ryan of Janesville.

“(This) will allow the federal government to continue serving the American people, while abiding by last year’s bipartisan budget agreement,” Ryan said after Thursday night's vote. “We also have begun to address the President’s recent executive overreach. I’ve long said our immigration system is broken, but the way to fix it is through Congress, not executive action that strains the limits of the Constitution.”

U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee; and Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls; opposed the bill, which cleared the House 219-206. The $1.1 trillion legislation would keep the government open into next year and next goes to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said it may not pass until Monday.

Pocan said it was “riddled with special interest giveaways,” including provisions he said would loosen consumer protections under Dodd-Frank and weaken campaign finance limits.

“Sneaking these changes through in a 1600-page funding bill hours before a government shutdown and adjourning for the rest of the year is not the way the American people expect us to govern,” Pocan said. “We can do better.”


Thursday, December 11, 2014

 2:21 PM 

House Ethics Committee says it would be 'inequitable' to punish Petri, closes case

The House Ethics Committee today closed the case against retiring U.S. Rep. Tom Petri without any punishment, saying it would be "inequitable" to take action against him.

The Office of Congressional Ethics Board earlier this year found "substantial reason" to believe Petri violated House rules in taking actions benefiting companies in which he had a financial stake.

But the Ethics Committee rejected that view, finding his "staff proactively and repeatedly consulted with the Committee's staff on whether and how Representative Petri could lawfully and properly engage in official actions on behalf of entities in which he had a financial interest.

"Representative Petri repeatedly sought guidance on substantially all matters under review, and should have been entitled to rely on that guidance, particularly in a matter where the rules governing the conduct require a fact-specific analysis, as is the case with the rules governing conflicts of interest in the House," the committee wrote in its report.

Petri thanked the committee for acting before his term is up and that it rejected "the misconceptions and inaccurate allegations that were published this year.”

“The Ethics Committee confirms what I have said all along -- I regularly consulted with the Committee to ensure everything was done in accordance with House rules," Petri said. "I have always sought to represent my constituents in an honest and open way, and that is why I requested this review."

Petri asked the House Ethics Committee earlier this year to look into allegations he acted on behalf of Oshkosh Corp. while owning stock in the company. At the time, he said he had sought the committee's advice in his actions and did nothing improper.


 8:09 AM 

Ribble backs ban on funding for immigration order

U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Sherwood, joined GOP colleagues in introducing an amendment that would ban funding to carry out the president’s immigration order.

Ribble said Congress is charged with writing and passing laws, while the president is tasked with implementing and enforcing them.

“Any President - regardless of political party - is required to enforce all existing laws, not simply pick and choose which laws they want to follow,” Ribble said yesterday. “That is why I worked with a handful of House Republicans to offer this amendment today and stop the President from taking this action."


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

 5:47 PM 

Baldwin touts weight limit fix for Wis. highway

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin's office is touting a provision in the omnibus spending bill that grandfathers current weight limits for U.S. 41 as it becomes part of the interstate system early next year.

Baldwin's office said federal law currently limits gross vehicle weight on interstates to 80,000 pounds, which is lower than Wisconsin law permits. The provision would allow heavier trucks to continue operating on the soon-to-be interstate between Milwaukee and Green Bay. Baldwin's office says a similar provision previously was enacted for I-39.


Friday, December 5, 2014

 8:12 AM 

Duffy, Baldwin laud transfer of Ashland lighthouse

A defense spending bill passed by the U.S. House includes a provision to transfer ownership of a historic lighthouse guarding Ashland's harbor.

U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Weston, said yesterday that transferring the Ashland Harbor Breakwater Light from the Coast Guard to the National Park Service "will ensure that it will continue to stand strong on Lake Superior's shores for another century," while the bill's language will prevent "additional Washington rules and regulations" from disrupting nearby water recreation.

"The Ashland Light is a public treasure and distinctive marker of Ashland's role in the region," added U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison. "I'm proud to help preserve the lighthouse so that visitors can continue to experience all of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore."

The House passed the bill 300-119; the Senate is expected to take up the bill next week.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

 8:31 AM 

Johnson argues he has standing to challenge Obamacare rule

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is again urging a federal appeals court to find he has standing to challenge an Obamacare ruling.

The Oshkosh Republican is challenging a ruling by the Obama administration allowing the federal government to subsidize health insurance for lawmakers and some congressional staffers through the Affordable Care Act.

A federal judge earlier this year rejected Johnson's argument that he had standing to challenge the decision by the Office of Personnel Management. He has since appealed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing the OPM decision imposes substantial administrative burdens by requiring him to work with senior staff to determine which employees will continue to receive federal benefits, while forcing participation in an unlawful scheme in which they receive special benefits not available to the public.

"There is nothing abstract or generalized about the grievance. This is an attack on a regulation specifically directed to Senators, their staff, and their benefits," Johnson's attorneys wrote in a brief filed yesterday. "That regulation imposes administrative burdens and utterly defeats Congress' clearly expressed intent that Members of Congress and their staff would have the same health care options as their constituents."


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

 4:57 PM 

Baldwin lauds LCS funding in defense bill

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin today lauded funding for Wisconsin-built combat ships included in a defense spending bill.

Baldwin, D-Madison, said the National Defense Authorization Act includes funding for three Littoral Combat Ships, which are built in part at Marinette Marine under a contract with the Navy.

Baldwin said the LCS program supports 2,000 direct jobs in Wisconsin and includes 93 Wisconsin companies in its supply chain. She added although the measure is "an important improvement over the original House bill," she would "continue to fight for the inclusion of additional advanced procurement for a fourth LCS in the final Fiscal Year 2015 appropriations bill."

The bill is set to be considered in the House this week, with Senate action expected next week.


 1:03 PM 

Petri calls for gas tax increase

U.S. Rep. Tom Petri today called for increasing the federal gas tax, saying the country needs "a first rate transportation system and the responsible thing to do is pay for it."

Petri signed on as a cosponsor -- with U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. -- of the UPDATE Act, which would gradually increase the gas tax by 15 cents over three years and index the tax to the rate of inflation thereafter.

The revenue would go toward bolstering the Highway Trust Fund, which, the authors noted, is projected to need another $100 billion on top of current gas tax receipts to maintain current funding levels over the next five years.

"We have to ask ourselves what is the more fiscally responsible route to take -- budget gimmicks that fool taxpayers into thinking we have offset spending but that, in reality, put more debt in the hands of future generations?" Petri asked. "Or, restoring purchasing power to the Trust Fund so we can meet our transportation needs now and in the future?"

The Fond du Lac Republican -- who's retiring at the end of the current term -- has long served on the House Transportation Committee, and noted former President Ronald Reagan supported a gas tax increase more than 22 years ago.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

 8:19 AM 

Baldwin calls for delay in USPS consolidation

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, is one of 29 senators urging a delay in the planned consolidation of 82 U.S. Postal Service mail processing facilities, including four in Wisconsin.

The lawmakers wrote the Postal Service had failed to adequately study in the impact of the consolidations and didn't notify the public.

"There is no reason that the USPS cannot delay its consolidations to provide time for the public to see and comment on the service standard worksheets," the senators wrote. "It is only fair to allow the process to unfold in this way, and the USPS gains little by deciding to continue the consolidation process on its current, arbitrary timeline."

Four Wisconsin facilities would be impacted in Eau Claire, La Crosse, Madison and Rothschild.


Monday, December 1, 2014

 8:25 AM 

Grothman says he won't be 'somebody who just votes no for the thrill of voting no'

Incoming U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman says he “expects to get a lot done” when he joins the Wisconsin delegation in Washington, D.C.

Rejecting concerns that he will create problems for Republicans in Congress, the Campbellsport Republican told “UpFront with Mike Gousha” his role as assistant Senate majority leader in the state Legislature illustrates his ability to work with and within his party’s leadership.

“I look to be … a constructive conservative; one of the more conservative people up there, particularly when it comes to government spending, certainly when it comes to welfare,” Grothman said on the program, produced in partnership with WisPolitics.com. “But, on the other hand, not somebody who just votes no for the thrill of voting no.”

Grothman indicated his support of a lawsuit targeting President Obama for his use of executive orders, but expressed uncertainty at the idea of using a government shutdown to call attention to conservative positions on issues such as immigration and government spending.

The newly elected 6th CD representative, who will take over for retiring GOP Congressman Tom Petri in January, said immigration issues loom large because Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, failed to enforce border controls.

See more from the show here.


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