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Saturday, April 25, 2015

 2:02 PM 

Ryan promotes trade legislation in weekly GOP address

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, delivering today's GOP address, argued legislation to give the president more authority to negotiate trade deals with other countries is an opportunity to restore American leadership in the world.

"We're the only country that can do this. We're the only country that can stand up for free enterprise and the rule of law. This is our moment," Ryan said. "It's our chance to lead, to restore American leadership in the world."

The legislation, known as trade promotion authority, cleared Ryan's Ways and Means Committee this week and was sent to the full house. It would allow the president to negotiate trade deals on behalf of Congress, which would then vote whether to accept the agreement. No amendments would be allowed.

Ryan argued the bill puts Congress "in the driver's seat" because lawmakers could reject an agreement.

"We have to make more things in America and sell them overseas, so we can create more jobs here at home," Ryan said, noting 96 percent of the world's consumers live outside the U.S. "And when we do, America's workers will benefit."

See a transcript of Ryan's remarks and listen to the address here.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

 2:12 PM 

Baldwin, Johnson vote to confirm Lynch as AG

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson both voted today to confirm Loretta Lynch as attorney general.

Her nomination, which had been held up in a fight over a human trafficking bill and the president’s executive actions on immigration, cleared the body 56-43. 

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, cited Lynch’s law enforcement credentials and deference to the president in selecting his cabinet for his support. He was one of 10 Senate Republicans to back the nomination.

“Although I share the concerns many of my colleagues have expressed over portions of her testimony during confirmation hearings, elections matter and the president has the right to select members of his cabinet,” Johnson said.

Baldwin, D-Madison, slammed Republicans for delaying the confirmation vote and “playing politics,” saying she waited for a vote longer than the last seven AGs combined. The president nominated her for the post in November.

She becomes the first African-American woman to hold the post.

“Today, I was proud to take a historic vote to confirm Loretta Lynch’s nomination and I believe that Wisconsin and the nation will be well served by her experience, qualifications and continued public service,” Baldwin said.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

 2:11 PM 

Column: 'Doc fix' could be business boon for Wisconsin

This is an excerpt from Nicole Duran's weekly DC Wrap column. Sign up to get the full column in your inbox each week.

As President Obama and congressional leaders met at the White House Tuesday evening to celebrate enactment of the so-called "doc fix," Wisconsin lawmakers celebrated inclusion of a provision that mirrored legislation co-sponsored by the entire delegation.

Congress overwhelmingly voted for the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, which repeals a measure that automatically cut doctors Medicare payments. Lawmakers and observers alike heralded the bipartisan deal brokered by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as a sign that Republicans and Democrats can find common ground and that Congress can do more than get mired in political squabbles.

The bill incorporated legislation authored by House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, and principles outlined in a bill by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, that increases transparency in health-care costs by making Medicare payment data available to certain entities such as the Wisconsin Health Information Organization (WHIO).

"Senator Baldwin was an early and strong leader in advocating to broaden access to Medicare data to help consumers and health-care stakeholders better understand the quality and cost of care in Wisconsin," stated WHIO CEO Josephine Musser. WHIO has one of the largest claims databases in the country, "but has historically not had access to Medicare data to provide a complete picture of value of health care in Wisconsin," before now.

"Years of hard work have finally paid off," Ryan stated after the Senate passed the bill last week. "Much more needs to be done to save Medicare, but this legislation includes important structural reforms, makes the program more focused on quality care, and allows Congress to now focus on the patient-centered reform needed to preserve Medicare for future generations.''

Qualified entities such as WHIO, designated as such under the Affordable Care Act, can now use Medicare claims data to conduct analyses--and charge for those analyses--to help providers, hospitals and insurers lower costs and improve patient care.

"We've created a whole new business," said lobbyist Bill Broydrick who worked on the legislation on behalf of the Wisconsin Medical Society.

Read Duran's column for more on this and other DC issues

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

 1:32 PM 

Obey, Petri advocate for empowering committee chairs

WisPolitics Luncheon: Former Representatives Obey and Petri from WisOpinion on Vimeo.

Having spent their careers on opposite sides of the aisle, former Congressmen Dave Obey and Tom Petri have found common ground in arguing the power shift toward party leadership is unhealthy.

The two say the leaders of committees, both at the federal and state levels, used to hold more power and influenced legislation to the point that some people even turned down leadership roles. But in the past two decades, decision making -- and fundraising -- has moved away from committees and into leadership offices, Obey and Petri told a WisPolitics.com luncheon at the Madison Club last week.

"And I think the result has been to have less well-informed, less knowledgeable staff and member input," said Petri, a House Republican who represented Wisconsin's 6th District from 1979 to January 2015. "And a lot of times, the legislation that does emerge is not as good as it could be because people are trying to get it done, with often the best of intentions, but looking at it from the sieve of keeping their team together, scoring partisan points for the next elections, which are legitimate top priorities for the leadership."

Obey, a former Appropriations Committee chair, is in the midst of a civics roadshow with Petri organized by the University of Wisconsin's Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service (WIPPS.org).

There is no obvious fix, Obey said, other than waiting for a natural correction.

"All I can say is that sooner or later, I think that the power is going to shift back somewhat because the expertise lies in the committees," he said. "And when this partisan zealousness fades, and it will, then that will happen."

Until then, Obey said, the tone of debate between the parties will remain more adversarial than if committee leaders still held sway. The focus now is on scoring points more than staking out positions and then seeking compromise.

Among the reasons for that, Obey said, is partisan redistricting in many states, including Wisconsin, and the resulting seat security, meaning there is less incentive to listen to the other side.

"And if you don't do that, if you don't think through what the other guys need, you won't have a lot of success in politics," Obey said. "Because if you want something to last, you don't have to have both parties be enthusiastic about it, but at least they have to be accepting of it."

That will happen, Obey said, because both parties eventually will realize they can't sustain a system that's more about winning through leadership offices than writing strong laws in committees.

"You need a balance between the two," he said, "and sooner or later the bodies will find that balance because if they don't, they're not going to be able to function, and they're going to be the laughingstock of the country because the country will realize that they don't know what the hell they're doing."

Any kind of sustained shift in power away from committees reduces the quality of legislation and alienates the people who could make those laws stronger, Petri added. He said the expertise of people in federal and state governments has never been higher, though it is difficult for that talent to shine through.

"But many of them become frustrated," Petri said, "because they are not able to use their judgement or their experience in a practical way as easily now as they could once they got a little seniority under the old system."

Click here to listen to the luncheon discussion.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

 2:11 PM 

Johnson's calls for treaty-like review of Iran pact thwarted

This is an excerpt from Nicole Duran's weekly DC Wrap column. Sign up to get the full column in your inbox each week.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a bipartisan bill Tuesday that would give Congress a say in any final deal the Obama administration and five other world powers broker make with Iran to curb its nuclear program.

Republicans, including Sen. Ron Johnson of Oshkosh, have been highly critical of the ongoing talks, which have a June 30 deadline for reaching a final agreement.

After Secretary of State John Kerry and negotiators from China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom announced April 2 that they reached a framework deal with Tehran, Johnson echoed GOP leaders, who insisted Congress be included in the process.

"If President Obama truly believes that this 'framework' for a deal will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, he ought to be able to conclusively prove it to Congress and, more importantly, to the American people," Johnson stated. "If he is confident that this deal lives up to its billing, he should submit the final deal to the Senate for ratification."

Although not ratification in the technical sense as the administration is not calling the accord being hammered out a treaty, legislation authored by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and former ranking Democrat Bob Menendez, D-N.J., would require Obama to submit the plan to Congress for review. Initially the bill called for a 60-day waiting period before Obama could lift congressionally approved economic sanctions on Tehran. However, Republicans and Democrats reached agreement on a 52 -day review period and the bill passed.

Johnson, who is not a co-sponsor of the legislation, wanted Congress to handle the nuclear deal like a treaty and require a two-thirds vote of both houses for approval. But his efforts were thwarted.

"It is a very limited role; it is a role with very little teeth," he said during the markup. "It is a far cry from advice and consent."

Republican leaders in the House have insisted that Congress be allowed to review, and reject, any final deal. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Monday that he would bring Corker's bill to the floor if the Senate approves it.

Read Duran's column for more on this and other DC issues

 1:29 PM 

Pocan wary of Obama's international trade plan

WisPolitics Luncheon 4-6-2015: U.S. Representative Mark Pocan from WisOpinion on Vimeo.

If Congressman Mark Pocan had his way, he would tap the brakes on President Barack Obama's far-reaching multinational trade pact.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership involves nine countries, including the U.S., and is designed to, among other things, promote innovation, economic growth and job creation. The agreement also is expected to create regulatory coherence, eliminate tariffs and make it easier for small- and medium-sized companies to take advantage of trade agreements.

"The Trans Pacific Partnership is kind of the biggest and the baddest of the trade deals yet proposed," Pocan told a WisPolitics.com luncheon last week at the Madison Club. "People call it NAFTA on steroids."

The pact, he said, has 29 chapters, of which five are about trade. The other chapters cover everything from food safety to intellectual property, Pocan said.

"Everything else is all in this all-encompassing document that involves 40 percent of the world's gross domestic product," he said. "So you want to get it right the first time when you've got something that large."

But the pact isn't right yet, Pocan said. Among his primary concerns are labor standards within the deal. Vietnam, for instance, would join the pact, but that country has a 50-cent minimum wage and does not allow labor unions, he said.

"It's a little hard to have a fair process in place that doesn't affect American jobs and doesn't depress our wages," Pocan said, "when you've got a country like Vietnam to get the language right."

He said Dems and Republicans also take issue with the pact's Investor State Dispute Settlement process. In many chapters of the trade agreement, multinational corporations can use a three-person tribunal to settle disputes.

Philip Morris is using that tribunal to sue Australia over a cigarette-packaging dispute. The company is fighting packaging that shows black lungs, and it is seeking lost profits and lost future profits, Pocan said.

"The problem is the three-person tribunal is unaccountable to anyone," he said. "It's people who are perhaps the same corporate lawyers one day, the next day become tribunal judges who then go back to being corporate lawyers, which is a little bit incestuous within the process."

Pocan said the pact also is drawing opposition because of its fast-track authority, which gives Obama sole power to finish negotiating the trade agreement. He said 80 percent of House Dems oppose fast-track, and at least 50 Republicans are against it.

"So Paul Ryan and leadership is for it, but don't forget this is a Congress where being in leadership doesn't matter as much as it should," Pocan said. "You should be one of the most powerful people in the country if you're the chair of Ways and Means, but that's only if you have a Congress that can pass bills."

When the votes are there, he said, the pact will go to the floor. But Pocan said the mix of opposition is slowing the process.

See more from the luncheon

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

 10:50 AM 

Federal appeals court rejects Johnson Obamacare challenge

A federal appeals court today upheld a lower court ruling that found U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and an aide did not have standing to challenge a decision allowing the federal government to subsidize the coverage lawmakers and their staffs receive through the Obamacare exchanges.

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, went to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals after a federal judge last year dismissed his lawsuit challenging a ruling by the Office of Personnel Management.

Among other things, he argued the law did not allow expressly allow the federal government to subsidize health insurance for lawmakers and some congressional staffers. He also 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. 

The appeals court panel today said Johnson could avoid the injury he claims simply by refusing to accept the benefit.

"Senator Johnson is free to forego the allegedly illegal benefits that he believes constitute unequal treatment," the court wrote. "He could attain precisely what he wants -- an unsubsidized health plan purchased through an individual ACA exchange -- by opting out of the insurance offered to him through OPM and instead purchasing insurance himself from an individual exchange."

UPDATE: Johnson said today's ruling was “unfortunate for America” because the issues in the case won’t have their day in court.

“For the second time, my attempt to restore the constitutional balance between the executive and legislative co-equal branches of government has been stymied by the courts," Johnson said. "With this decision today, another executive action by the administration will go unchallenged, all based on the legal technicality of standing."

Johnson said he would review the decision with his legal team. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

 2:22 PM 

Johnson slams Obama on ISIS strategy

OCONOMOWOC -- U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said his preferred method for dealing with ISIS is to "wipe them off the face of the Earth" as he blasted President Obama for being too soft on the issue.

"For me, defeat is, you know, defeat. Get rid of them, kill them!" Johnson said. "Wipe them off the face of the Earth. Wipe that evil, that barbarity off the face of the Earth. President Obama's definition of defeat is 'Let's kind of just contain this thing, kick it down the road and let the next guy or gal take care of it.'"

Johnson spoke on national policy at the Wisconsin Conservative Action Conference on Saturday.

He called the recently negotiated Iranian deal "awful," saying, "that negotiation was lost before it before it ever started." Johnson argued that Obama is lifting economic sanctions against Iran "while basically acknowledging their right to enrich uranium."

Johnson said he doesn't believe any nuclear enrichment program in Iran could be peaceful. "If they want peaceful nuclear power, they can buy the fuel like other places. That's an outright lie," he said.

The freshman senator from Oshkosh said he will introduce an amendment on Tuesday to rename the Iran deal a "treaty," which would require 67 votes -- a two-thirds majority -- for Senate ratification. He added, "When I lose that, I'll say let's deem it a congressional executive agreement with filibuster privileges -- 60 votes. When I lose that, I'll say how about a congressional executive agreement, expedited procedures -- 50 votes."

Johnson also blasted Obama for pulling U.S troops from Iraq, saying "the war had been won" but that the U.S should have stayed to build a stable democracy. Obama, Johnson said, "bugged out," causing U.S. casualties and money spent to be "wasted."

"As we see things moving forward with ISIS, he basically allows Iran to be the boots on the ground, spreading their influence," said Johnson, "because (Obama's) not committed to the very goal he set for himself to degrade and defeat ISIS."

Johnson told WisPolitics.com afterward that he supports more U.S troops in Afghanistan but that he would not vote to authorize troops to fight ISIS in Syria and elsewhere because he doubts Obama's commitment to success.

"I certainly don't see that in the authorization to use military force that he presented to us." he said. "It's going to be so difficult right now with this president in office. We're going to have to try in some way, shape or form, to get by the next couple of years."

Johnson also blasted Obama's meeting this weekend with Cuban President Raul Castro, the first high-level meeting between leaders of the U.S and Cuba in a half-century.

"I obviously disagree with the direction President Obama's taking on policy as it relates to Cuba," Johnson said. "Our policy should be focused on two primary goals: to improve the lives of a lot of people in Cuba but also to protect our own national security. Cuba is already open for trade throughout pretty much the rest of the world, and it certainly hasn't done anything in terms of bringing the regime in Cuba in the modern world to allow freedom of expression, lack of oppression."

"It's just like we're doing with Iran," Johnson added. "If we lessen those sanctions we'll just put more money, more economic strength into some regimes that actually harm our national security. It's not a good thing that President Obama is even attending the conference where you've got Raul Castro there. You're raising his profile, you're legitimatizing that regime, which is a completely illegitimate regime."

-- By Kay Nolan
For WisPolitics.com

 10:32 AM 

Sensenbrenner to revive 'USA FREEDOM Act'; Ryan calls for new tax code

OCONOMOWOC -- U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Menomonee Falls said he plans to revive his "USA FREEDOM Act" bill that would restrict the National Security Agency's ability to collect data and monitor Americans' phone calls and electronic communication, including social media posts.

Sensenbrenner faulted previous administrations, both Democratic and Republican, for "going too far" in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. "They say that by getting all of it, there might be something relevant that is found. What we should be doing is targeting those people for whom there is a reasonable suspicion that they are involved in terrorist activities, and then going after their phone records and the people they are talking to," he said Saturday at the Wisconsin Conservative Action Conference.

Sensenbrenner said "You're going to hear an awful lot of curious arguments on why we should even consider this law because of the terrorist attacks in Paris and in other places in the world. I will respond to that argument this way: By the admission of the NSA, of the trillions of phone records they have gotten, there has been only one potential terrorist attack against the United States that has been uncovered. While I know that trying to find out what terrorists are doing is somewhat like trying to find a needle in a haystack, the NSA has made the haystack so big, they can't see the forest for the trees."

He said he "hopes there won't be a partisan squabble" that would prevent support from both sides of the aisle for the legislation.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan spoke briefly as well. He repeated his belief that the United States' current tax code is "so thick and so complicated that it gives the Internal Revenue Service way too much subjective power." He said he hopes to "make sure that an IRS agent can never again target someone based on their political beliefs."

Ryan also said "it's an economic imperative that we lower tax rates" for businesses. He said American business tax rate is 35 percent -- "the highest in the world," compared with 15 percent in Canada, 12.5 percent in Ireland, 20 percent in Britain and 25 percent in China.

"We are in a global economy whether you like it or not," he said. "When you tax your businesses at much higher tax rates than our foreign competitors tax theirs, guess what? They win, we lose."

-- By Kay Nolan
For WisPolitics.com

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· Ron Johnson (R)

· 1st CD: Paul Ryan (R)
· 2nd CD: Mark Pocan (D)
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· 5th CD: F. James Sensenbrenner (R)
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