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Thursday, July 9, 2015

 2:46 PM 

Column: Cheesehead factor important for Obama legislative agenda

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

President Obama's visit last week to La Crosse was very much a "thank you" to the 3rd District Democrat who helped him secure fast-track authority for trade deals. But his trip to the Dairy State also highlighted how dependent Obama is on cheeseheads beyond western Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind to advance his final legislative priorities.

"We're kind of right in the center of his legislative agenda," Kind said about himself and his nine colleagues. "As a delegation, we're strategically placed. And we try to work together. We should be working more in that fashion in Congress -- working together to try and get things done," Kind said.

The alignment of the delegation's and Obama's priorities is more than just good committee assignments, mused Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls.

"We in Wisconsin are interested in results and think outside of the box to try and get them," he said, jokingly adding: "There must be something in the milk around here."

When the USA Patriot Act briefly expired last month, the White House pushed Sensenbrenner's USA Freedom Act, which ended bulk collection of Americans' phone records but extended other authorities to help the intelligence community thwart terrorists.

And Obama last week hinted that he'd turn to Sensenbrenner again soon.

"I am really interested in the possibilities--the prospect of bipartisan legislation around the criminal justice system," Obama stated last week. "And we've seen some really interesting leadership from some unlikely Republican legislators, very sincerely concerned about making progress there," he said, most likely referring to Sensenbrenner and his recently introduced Safe, Accountable, Fair and Effective, or SAFE, Justice Act.

"I welcome the president's support," Sensenbrenner responded, adding the administration "must have liked" the legislation that came out of the House Judiciary Committee-sanctioned task force led by him and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va..

The SAFE Justice Act would overhaul the federal sentencing and corrections system to combat recidivism, maintain lengthy sentences only for violent and career criminals and seek alternatives to jail for nonviolent offenders.

The package has attracted a lot of support from the left and right, Sensenbrenner said. "When you get the ACLU and Koch brothers on the same page, you know you have something," he said. "One thing that you need to get anything done in Washington is to make it bipartisan and bicameral," the veteran lawmaker said in explaining his approach.

And of course Obama could not advanced his trade agenda without House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, whom he will also need to keep the Highway Trust Fund from again going bankrupt at month's end.

"I'm glad the president is finally working more closely with the Wisconsin delegation," Ryan said in a statement. "It goes to show just how much we can get done when we focus on finding common ground."

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


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