In the News: Blog

By Brett Coughlin

Sixteen conservative Republican senators dropped a bill this morning that would put the brakes on implementation of last year’s sweeping health care law — if their proposal ever gets a vote.

The bill – the Save Our States (SOS) Act – would block any further federal spending on implementation of the law. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.).

“The reason for the bill is that we have 26 states that have to decide if they want to spend money up-front when you may have a bill that is ultimately determined to be unconstitutional,” Hutchison told POLITICO. The bill is basically a legislative injunction on implementing the law, so it could be referred to both the Finance and the Judiciary committees, Senate aides said.

Along with Hutchison, SOS is co-sponsored by Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), John Ensign (R-Nev.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

Early handicapping of the bill, by a long-time Republican lobbyist who asked to speak on background, suggests the bill has a very slim of even getting an up-or-down vote in committee or on the Senate floor.

The chances are probably less than 10 percent, the lobbyist said.

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By Claudia Broman

Michele Wheeler, the executive director of the Bad River Watershed Association, traveled out east this week to participate in Washington, D.C.'s annual Great Lakes Day.

“I'd never done this before, but it's something I believe in,” Wheeler said Wednesday night, speaking from her hotel after a full day of meetings with federal legislators. “I'm exhausted.”

Wheeler had a full day of briefings on Tuesday as a member of the Wisconsin delegation representing the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. The coalition is a consortium of non-profit groups that advocate for the Great Lakes.

Wednesday was the day for those participating in Great Lakes Day to meet with legislators and staff members.

Wheeler met with U.S. Senators, U.S. House Representatives, and legislative staff members from Wisconsin for 15 minute stints throughout the day. Those with whom she met included 3rd District Congressman Ron Kind (D-La Crosse), 7th District Congressman Sean Duffy (R-Ashland), and Senator Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh).

A topic of discussion with congressional freshmen was the importance of continuing leadership on Great Lakes issues, Wheeler said.

What is so important about the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Wheeler explained, is how it is a bipartisan effort.

“It reflects the general public's support of the issue,” Wheeler said.

Preventative investment in the Great Lakes is socially-responsible, she said, as whatever solutions or tactics are used for cleaning up problems later on will cost more than prevention – as in Asian carp. The Army Corps of Engineers is planning to tackle a five-year-long study to examine invasive species and waterways around Lake Michigan where Asian carp could potentially enter the Great Lakes. But five years is too long, Wheeler said.

“Our appeal to Congress was to do it in 18 months, instead,” she said.

For Asian carp to enter and alter the Great Lakes would change the ecosystem forever, Wheeler said.

This focus on prevention and quick study, rather than lengthy study and subsequent long-term effects seemed to be a concept that the legislators with whom Wheeler met understood and could get behind, she said.

“I was really impressed with the staffers, especially those of the freshmen congressmen,” Wheeler said, pointing out how the congressional staff members tended to show great interest in getting up to speed on the Great Lakes issues.

Wheeler said that the U.S. House has already passed a continuing resolution approving $225 million in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding, though the U.S. Senate has an opportunity to set that figure back to $300 million for 2011. In 2012, a White House proposal shows funding for the initiative at $350 million.

“We'd like to see it at $475 million again,” Wheeler said, in addition to seeing the initiative itself included as a regular line item in the federal budget.

Wheeler also spoke to how the structure of the initiative allows for federal filtering of grant monies and funding to local partners, “which sets up the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for success,” she said. “We know what the issues are and we know how to deal with them.”

The Bad River Watershed Association obtained initiative funding to replace culverts in the Bad River Watershed and prevent excessive sediment from flowing into Lake Superior due to failing road crossings over streams. These projects have also helped to address the ease with which fish can pass through culverts and access spawning areas, Wheeler said.

Another local group, the Chequamegon Bay Area Partnership, received a number of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grants, as well, for Lake Superior watershed-related projects.

“We put in a lot of energy locally, and a lot of time, to make sure we're not competing with each other,” Wheeler said, emphasizing how these local grant projects focus on collaboration and non-duplication of effort.

Wheeler emphasized that a little foresight now on the part of federal leaders can truly help to protect the Great Lakes.

“My time away is not easy,” Wheeler said. “But I believe this is a responsible thing to do. By spending this money now we are going to save money later.”

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Wisconsin's U.S. senators split on today's effort by Republicans to repeal federal health care reform.

U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Milwaukee, voted against the motion, while U.S. Rep. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, voted in favor. The motion was turned away by a 51-47 party line vote.

"I'm glad that we had the opportunity to vote on this legislation, to be on record as to which Senators support the implementation of Obamacare and which senators want to repeal the law and replace it with common sense market-based reforms that work," Johnson said in a statement.

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By Craig Gilbert

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson issued the following statement after the GOP’s bid to repeal the new health care law failed in the US Senate along party lines:

“I’m glad that we had the opportunity to vote on this legislation, to be on record as to which Senators support the implementation of Obamacare and which Senators want to repeal the law and replace it with common-sense market-based reforms that work. Obamacare is the single greatest threat to our freedom in my lifetime. It is designed to be a government takeover of health care, which will result in rationing, lower the quality of care, and severely limit medical innovation. It must be repealed.”

Johnson voted for the amendment to repeal the law, as did every Senate Republican. Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl voted against it, as did every Democrat. With 47 votes, the Republicans fell 13 votes short of the 60 needed to advance the measure.

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By Lori Ann LaRocoo

We're a little less than two weeks away until the White House releases its 2012 budget and both sides are getting ready to battle.

The Republicans continue to vow to drastically cut spending and the deficit. Senator Ron Johnson, the junior Senator from Wisconsin, but he is quickly becoming a big name among hill Republicans.

Delivering the GOP's national weekly radio address last weekend, Johnson said the root of all economic evil facing our nation is “big government" and uncontrolled spending. Sitting on the Budget and Appropriations Committees, the former accountant and manufacturer hopes his "real world" experience will help re-shape Congress' spending habits.

LL: You are a freshman lawmaker on several powerful committees including the Appropriations and the Budget Committee. How are you going to use your influence as an accountant and businessman in cutting the budget and spending?

RJ: I’ve spent 31 years in manufacturing, building an ability to analyze figures and identify the key data. I’ll focus on analyzing the nation’s balance sheet—going through the financial data, highlighting the most important points, and using that information to convey to the American people just how urgent the need is to start to seriously address these problems.

LL: President Obama has said he would veto any spending bills with earmarks. Do you think he will stand by that State of the Union pledge?

RJ: I am fairly confident that this is one promise President Obama will stick to—because the result will be to leave him in the position of deciding how these dollars are spent.

This is the one valid objection of those who have supported earmarking: it does cede to the president enormous power over the allocation of spending. But until we heal the federal budget process— until we apply real constraints—the least that we can do to rein in spending is to refrain from earmarks. If he stands by his promise to veto all earmarks, then the president will have the sole authority to ‘earmark.’ Once we fix the process, this spending power can return to Congress, where it more appropriately resides.

LL: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has told Obama to "back off" on that pledge. Are you hearing similar rumblings of push back in the Senate?

RJ: I’ve only been here for a short time, but I’m encouraged that all the talk here is about restraining spending. From my standpoint, I absolutely intend to stand by my commitment. I think this is one area where the president will stick to his commitment as well, and I support him on it.

LL: You have never been to DC before you were elected. Some say that is a disadvantage. Could it also be a blessing? I sometimes feel politicians get caught up in the DC bubble. Are you being underestimated in what you can bring to Washington?

RJ: It is a huge advantage. We need a new perspective on the budget process and on federal spending. We need citizen legislators with long-term experience in the private sector. It is critical that we bring this new perspective to ally with those who have been fighting this fight for years. I will always be an outsider, no matter how long I serve. I have been in the private sector way too long to be changed by the time I’ll be spending in Washington.

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By Craig Gilbert

Delivering the national GOP's weekly radio address, freshman Senator Ron Johnson said that “big government is blocking job creation, not helping it,” and called on the President to offer a “serious” plan for spending cuts.

Speaking as a political newcomer to a national audience,  Johnson introduced himself as a first-time candidate in 2010 who thought “it was time for citizen legislators to come to Washington” to do something about the “bankrupting of America.”

“As a manufacturer, I have learned to identify and attack the root cause of a problem, not spend my time addressing mere symptoms. Huge deficits, slow economic activity, high unemployment, and woefully inadequate job creation are severe symptoms of the problem. They are not the root cause. The ever expanding size, scope, and cost of government is. This is what we must address. This is what I hope the President has come to realize,” Johnson said.

Johnson complained of overregulation of business and an over-complicated tax code. He said when Congress is asked to raise the debt ceiling a few months from now, it “will be the moment of truth when talk and rhetoric must be turned into action and tangible results. Real reductions must be part of the solution.”

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By Robert Costa

A big week for Wisconsin: Sen. Ron Johnson, the freshman Republican from Oshkosh, delivers the party’s weekly address, days after Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) gave the GOP rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address.

“In his response to the State of the Union address, my fellow Wisconsinite Paul Ryan — a leader in tackling our spending problem — did a great job of expressing our willingness to work with the president, and pointing out how critical it is for us to act now, before it’s too late,” Johnson says. “The issues of spending, deficits, and the debt will be central in the upcoming debate over the 2011 spending bill and the need to raise the debt ceiling. This will be the moment of truth when talk and rhetoric must be turned into action and tangible results. Real reductions must be part of the solution.”

Click HERE to watch the response or view the original article.

By Molly K. Hooper

A freshman GOP Senator said on Saturday that President Obama needs to focus on the root cause of the nation’s economic woes, not the symptoms.

Self-proclaimed citizen legislator Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) argued that big government is behind the ballooning deficits, high unemployment rate and bloated debt.

“Huge deficits, slow economic activity, high unemployment, and woefully inadequate job creation are severe symptoms of the problem. They are not the root cause. The ever expanding size, scope, and cost of government is. This is what we must address. This is what I hope the president has come to realize,” Johnson said in the official GOP response to the president’s weekly address.

He continued, “I hope the president and his allies in Congress accept a simple truth: big government is blocking job creation, not helping it. The sooner Washington ends its dependence on more spending, the sooner our economy will see real growth.”

Johnson, who defeated longtime incumbent Badger State Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, said that he bring the perspective of “someone who’s been creating jobs, meeting a payroll, balancing a budget and living under the rules, regulations and taxes that politicians … impose on the rest of us.”

The former plastics manufacturing plant owner underscored that point, “unfortunately, when it comes to creating jobs, government is rarely helpful. Government tends to make it harder and more expensive to create jobs. We need to make job creation easier and cheaper.”

The president made a quick trip to Wisconsin earlier this week, following the Tuesday night State of the Union Address, which centered on the nation’s economic situation.

In the nationally televised speech, the president spoke of making “investments” in the economy.

Johnson indicated his concern, though, that Obama will not take the steps that Republicans feel are necessary to jump-start the economy such as “allowing taxpayers and businesses to keep more of their hard-earned dollars, and providing them the freedom to invest where they choose.”

“Unfortunately, I’m afraid he means more government spending and more government control. The lesson we all should have learned from the pitiful results of the $814 billion stimulus bill is that growing government does not grow our economy or create long-term, self-sustaining jobs. It is the private sector that creates jobs,” Johnson said.

The freshman senator noted that Congress and the president will tackle these issues head-on in the near future with the impending need to raise the national debt ceiling.

“The issues of spending, deficits, and the debt will be central in the upcoming debate over the 2011 spending bill and the need to raise the debt ceiling. This will be the moment of truth when talk and rhetoric must be turned into action and tangible results. Real reductions must be part of the solution,” Johnson said.

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By Christopher Murray

Now that Congress is back in session the final committee rosters are finally beginning to take shape.  With large numbers of new members, many of which campaigned to radically change how Washington works, an interesting dynamic to watch is how these folks will fit into the permanent and often change-resistant legislative structure.  Traditionally, plum committee assignments are given to those members who “earn” them through working on behalf of their party’s interests in ways such as fundraising and voting consistently with the leadership.

This norm has historically been especially strong on the Senate side where members vigorously protect their prerogatives, especially when confronted with ambitious newcomers.  In the Senate “club” it is often advised that freshmen walk softly and learn how to do the job before they set out to upset the apple cart.

Nowhere is this more the case than on the Appropriations Committee.  While the recent Congresses have seen a rise in partisan voting and a general decline in civility, appropriators have acted to ensure that their panel is the last bastion of an older, more genteel, Congress.  With the responsibility of doling out billions of dollars to thousands of projects, the Appropriations Committee has historically rewarded bipartisan deal-making as opposed to ideological warfare.  Members of both parties would carve up the federal pie, send money home to the constituents, and everyone would be happy—and re-elected.

Things may, however, be changing for appropriators.

The first sign of change came with the movement to ban earmarks.  While earmarks have been common across committees, they have been the modus operandi for appropriators.  When the House GOP set about choosing the new chairman of the spending panel, the candidates went out of their way to pledge fealty to the anti-earmark, pro-austerity wave that was running through the caucus.  Harold Rogers of Kentucky, the ultimate winner, will have the unenviable task of weaning his panel, including himself, from the old way of doing business.

On the Senate side, word comes that an unprecedented six freshman have been appointed to the committee.  As Mitch McConnell, himself a prodigious earmarker, tries to keep pace with his colleagues across the Capitol he must balance the enthusiasm of his new members with the inherent conservatism of the Senate.  An examination of these new appropriators reveals a mix of establishment-type Republicans, coupled with a dash of Tea Party flavor.  Four of the six come to the panel with long periods of previous congressional service.  Illinois moderate Mark Kirk served on the House appropriations panel during is five terms so his assignment, despite the fact that he’s a freshman, doesn’t seem unusual.  Further establishment ties can be seen in Missouri’s Roy Blunt who served in the House leadership as Whip and Indiana’s Dan Coats who has a decade of previous Senate service on his resume.  Though a solid conservative, Kansas’ Jerry Moran demonstrated a strong pragmatic streak during his seven terms of House service.  North Dakota’s John Hoeven comes to the Senate having served a decade as the state’s governor.  While all of these five are freshman they would seem to fit the mold of past appropriators in terms temperament and style.  They’ve all served numerous years in government and have demonstrated a willingness to protect local interests.

The one wildcard assignment is Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson. A political unknown prior to his campaign against Russ Feingold, Johnson was an unapologetic carrier of the Tea Party banner.  During one of their debates, a surreal point/counterpoint on Atlas Shrugged broke out which surely left many of the viewers befuddled.  It will be interesting to watch how Johnson approaches his new perch on Appropriations.  Surely Tea Partiers hope he will follow the lead of another Wisconsinite who received a coveted Appropriations spot early in his career, former Representative and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Mark Neumann.  A member of the class of 1994, Neumann rankled many in his party with his willingness to attack Republican spending priorities, to the point where he was kicked off the committee by then chairman Bob Livingston.

Interestingly, Senator Johnson was absent from yesterday’s kickoff of the Senate Tea Party Caucus.  Arguing that he is more interested in working from within traditional GOP channels, Johnson’s absence raises the fear among many on the right that he is going to settle into the role of an insider.  Whether his assignment to the Appropriations Committee is a further example of this is yet to be seen.  What is undeniable is that the committee, long a reservoir of log-rolling and back slapping, has undergone a dramatic degree of change.

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By Craig Gilbert

Thursday's first meeting of the Senate's Tea Party Caucus attracted four Republicans, and Ron Johnson was not among them. 

The freshman Senator will not be joining the group at this time, an aide said.

"I sprang from the Tea Party and have great respect for what it represents," Johnson said in a statement. "The reason I ran for the US Senate was to not only stop the Obama agenda but reverse it. I believe our best chance of doing that is to work towards a unified Republican Conference so that's where I will put my energy." 

In other words, Johnson does not appear to be interested in being part of a faction that may directly challenge the party leadership or prove divisive within the GOP caucus. His statement suggests that's a tactical decision, not a statement about his commitment to the Tea Party agenda (63% of Johnson voters last fall supported the Tea Party movement, according to the Wisconsin exit poll).

The four Republicans that were part of the inaugural meeting of the Tea Party Caucus in the Senate were: Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas.

At the meeting, DeMint thanked voters for electing three other GOP senators who have identified with the Tea Party movement but haven't joined the Tea Party caucus: Johnson, Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey and Florida's Marco Rubio.

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