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Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

September 24, 2018

Wisconsin State Journal, Sept. 23

Finish farm bill with compromise

Wisconsin stands to benefit from the 2018 farm bill now before Congress. That’s why it’s important for the committee hashing out differences between the House and Senate versions to produce a compromise by the Sept. 30 deadline.

While the committee can keep negotiating beyond the deadline by extending the current farm bill, more time is not what Congress needs to resolve the disputes. Instead, the key to unlocking an agreement is for Congress to appreciate what the 19th-century master politician Otto von Bismarck so well understood: “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best.”

The farm bill is possible and attainable before the end of this month if Republicans and Democrats stop holding out for what’s best for their partisan goals and aim instead for the next best solution, which will serve the country’s interests. That’s the art of compromise that has been missing from Washington, D.C., for so long.

Holding up passage of the $420 billion farm bill is a dispute over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food stamp program, which accounts for 80 percent of the spending. The House version cuts SNAP by tightening eligibility and imposing work requirements on more recipients. The Senate version leaves SNAP intact.

The House version is expected to kick 76,000 Wisconsin residents off food stamps, including 23,000 children. That’s about 11 percent of the state’s total food-stamp recipients.

Reducing fraud and encouraging work are important. But so is feeding families in need. The congressional negotiators’ job is to find a middle ground. They should do their jobs. Failure puts American agriculture at risk.

The farm bill comes up for debate every five years. Wisconsin entered this debate cycle with a need for improvement in the bill’s provisions affecting the dairy industry. Agriculture contributes about $88 billion a year to Wisconsin’s economy and provides about 12 percent of Wisconsin’s jobs. About half the economic contribution comes from the dairy industry. Wisconsin, America’s Dairyland, is the top cheese-producing state and is home to more dairy farmers than any other state.

The dairy provision in the current farm bill, the Margin Protection Program, was a disappointment. Based on an insurance system in which farmers paid premiums to get taxpayer-subsidized insurance to protect against losses, the system proved to be a money-loser.

The Senate and House versions of the new dairy insurance program are slightly different, but both offer a stronger safety net. A University of Missouri professor concluded the new program could offer six times the benefits of the old program, depending on the size of a farm and the choice of coverage.

For taxpayers, the new insurance program should be more cost-effective. The current bill’s dairy program has a budget baseline of about $50 million a year. The new program should cost taxpayers about $100 million more over five years. For that extra expense, consumers should gain more stability in dairy product prices and supplies.

The farm bill makes other improvements important to Wisconsin, including legalizing the production of industrial hemp, in which the state once led the nation.

The bill also falls short in many areas. For example, though Wisconsin congressmen Ron Kind and Jim Sensenbrenner helped lead efforts to cap payments to wealthy farmers, the bill does almost nothing to rein in such unnecessary subsidies. But no farm bill has been perfect. Congress cannot let partisan perfection be the enemy of the greater good.

For Wisconsin, this bill is better than the expiring farm bill. Pass it.

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The Capital Times, Sept. 19

Paul Ryan is still steering politics into the gutter

Paul Ryan has no shame. He is a political careerist so obsessed with winning at any cost that he refuses to engage in fair competition — for his own seat, or in this fall’s intense struggle for control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The fact that Ryan did not have the courage to run for re-election this year is one indicator of his disregard for the electoral processes from which governing power extends. The fact that his political operatives are currently engaged in some of the ugliest campaigning of the 2018 election season is a far more troubling indicator of the same dismissal of democracy.

Ryan decided to quit his day job when it became clear that Wisconsin voters were on to him. After two decades in Washington, the speaker of the House was so fully identified with everything that voters want to change in our politics that he knew he could not be re-elected.

Ryan’s neighbors in Janesville saw through him years ago. As far back as 2012, he lost his home precinct, his hometown and his home county. Yet massive outlays of special-interest money allowed the political careerist to retain a seat that he had worked with legislative Republicans to gerrymander in his favor. When he steered the Republican Party and the Congress into the service of Donald Trump, however, Ryan was caught out with no defense.

Ryan’s pathetic performance as Trump’s errand boy did him in. He was mocked on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” as a 1950s soda jerk delivering ice cream to Trump after the president announces: “I’ve got the Republicans in the palm of my hand.” When Trump dismisses him, the Ryan character looks into the camera and announces: “He feeds me dog food.”

A few days later, a Washington Post headline announced: “Misery is being Paul Ryan.” In short order, ironworker Randy Bryce announced a challenge to Ryan. People in Wisconsin and across the country delighted in the idea of a working man taking on a bona fide political elite.

It was obvious that Ryan was in serious political trouble.

So he cut and ran — abandoning the constituents he had neglected for years and the Congress he had failed to lead.

Ryan did not, however, give up on helping billionaire campaign donors like the Koch brothers and corporate interests influence politics. The speaker continues to manipulate the political process through a pet project of his, the shadowy Congressional Leadership Fund. OpenSecrets.org, a watchdog website maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics, said the CLF “is a powerful and influential GOP super PAC that has already raised nearly $100 million for the 2018 election cycle. The super PAC, which formed in 2011, has rapidly become a major contributor to GOP politicians, closely aligned to House Speaker Paul Ryan.”

The New York Times refers to the CLF as “affiliated with” Ryan. Other media outlets describe it as “linked to” and “endorsed by” the speaker. While Ryan’s aides describe the CLF as an “outside group” that he does not formally direct, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank got to the heart of the matter when he explained that “it is a political force because of his fundraising, and (the group’s) ads would stop immediately if he publicly denounced them.”

The CLF has gotten a nasty reputation for peddling what the Post refers to as “lies, name-calling and racism.” But things got nastier after the CLF obtained the complete official personnel file (including a confidential national security clearance form) of a former Central Intelligence Agency officer and U.S. Postal Inspection Service officer who happens to be challenging a vulnerable member of Ryan’s Republican caucus.

The Democratic candidate who was targeted by the CLF, Abigail Spanberger, learned that the CLF had obtained her confidential file after an Associated Press reporter asked her about it and identified the Ryan-aligned group as his source.

Ryan’s henchmen defended themselves by saying that they had obtained an unredacted copy of the security clearance application after an opposition research group they work with filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Postal Service for Spanberger’s paperwork.

Then Ryan’s CLF threatened to sue Spanberger — who as a CIA operations officer spent more than eight years working on high-stakes oversea assignments to keep Americans safe — for raising concerns about the legitimacy and appropriateness of the group’s approach to politics.

Spanberger refused to be silenced. “For me, this is an issue of principle,” she told the Washington publication Roll Call. “When you fill out an SF-86 (security clearance form), you are putting every single detail about your life down on paper ... so that the U.S. government knows everything there is to know about you. So the fact that CLF is now attempting to use a document that they should have never obtained to spin some story that is ludicrous, it’s not only disappointing, but it is so incredibly disingenuous that I really just can’t believe it.”

The former federal law enforcement officer had a right to be suspicious. There were suggestions that “human error” might explain the release of her records. But, on Sept. 10, Roll Call reported: “The U.S. Postal Service inspector general has launched an investigation into the improper release of U.S. congressional candidate Abigail Spanberger’s full, unredacted official personnel file, including a highly confidential national security form known as Standard Form 86.”

This is a story that is far from finished. No matter how the confidential information was obtained, however, the scheming by Ryan’s minions to use confidential information to undermine a rival reveals the CLF for what it is: a political machine every bit as shameless, and shameful, as the man with whom it is identified: Paul Ryan.

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Kenosha News, Sept. 22

Off-base tweet storm in state’s top races ends in apology

That tweet storm about the national anthem and NFL players that involved all four major party candidates for Wisconsin governor and lieutenant governor earlier this month ended in an apology this week.

We kid you not.

There was Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch in Madison, apologizing for her initial tweet that read as follows: “My opponent has made clear that he believes in kneeling for the National Anthem, in fact, Wisconsin neighbors have told me that they may have seen him do exactly that.”

At the time, Mandela Barnes, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, had called her a liar via twitter.

Of interest, her apology came a day after she doubled down by claiming she was at an event with Barnes — the opening of the state fair — when he knelt during the anthem.

“I was looking at the flag and not my opponent,” Kleefisch said on WTMJ-AM in Milwaukee. “And I was told later that he kneeled briefly and I repeated what someone else told me. And he had said that he didn’t do it and I have to believe him and I have to apologize for repeating something I was told.”

So there. There’s a lesson in repeating what you hear and do not know.

“Don’t tell me you’re sorry cause you’re not,” countered Barnes, an African-American, quoting lyrics from pop star Rihanna’s “Take a Bow.” ″You’re only sorry you go caught.”

We wrote about the initial tweet storm in an editorial that was sent around the state by The Associated Press, and we feel compelled to close the circle.

What we wrote the first time still applies: The Wisconsin governor’s race should be about education, health care, jobs, roads, local control and other issues in any order. It should not be about NFL players standing during the national anthem.

Count us among those who want this race focused on issues important to residents of the state.

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