Skip to content

By: Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner
April 17, 2018

Great news for Wisconsinites: Today is Tax Day 2018, and it marks the last day that you’ll be burdened by an outdated and cumbersome tax code. Filing your taxes under the pro-family, pro-growth Tax Cuts & Jobs Act will be fairer and simpler than ever before.

Since the tax code’s last overhaul in 1986, our code has exploded into more than 70,000 pages of loopholes and carve-outs, making it time-consuming and frustrating for families and small businesses to complete their taxes. Reform was long overdue.

Fortunately, after today’s tax filing deadline, those frustrations will be history.

Under our new system, every American can take advantage of the doubled standard deduction. Additionally, families can utilize an increased child tax credit. And no one will be forced to pay a penalty tax for deciding to forgo purchasing health insurance.

Immediately after President Trump signed the tax bill into law, Americans across the country began reaping the benefits of tax reform.

In February, the IRS issued new tax withholding instructions to businesses, allowing 90 percent of American employees to take home bigger paychecks.

Not only are most Americans keeping more of their hard-earned money, but many of them have also received additional perks from their employers, often coming in the form cash bonuses, retirement investments, and increased benefits.

For example, as a direct result of the tax cuts, full-time employees at the Pewaukee-based Trico Corporation will receive $650 bonuses and increased contributions into their 401(k) accounts. The company will also hire more full-time workers to fill new positions. Town Bank, which has more than a dozen locations across southeastern Wisconsin, is raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour. And earlier this year, Sussex-based Quad/Graphics announced that it would invest $22 million into its employees’ retirement accounts.

These are just a few of the many tax reform success stories that are occurring across our state and across the nation. As of early April, 4 million
workers at more than 400 businesses nationwide have received one of these benefits.

New tax savings are being passed along to Wisconsinites in other ways too. The Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin projects that utility companies
will save more than $275 million under the new code — a cost savings that will ultimately be realized by consumers.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats bemoaned thousand-dollar bonuses as “crumbs.” But, this thinking is flawed. Most American families don’t think $1,000 is small change — but rather an investment in their children’s college fund, a much-needed vacation, or a way to pay down debt.

Ms. Pelosi also warned the tax cuts would bring “Armageddon,” yet after eight years of failed policies and economic stagnation, these reforms have led to steady economic growth. There are signs of renewed economic optimism all around Wisconsin, not the least of which is our record low unemployment of 2.9 percent.

Most significantly, the average family of four in Wisconsin’s Fifth Congressional District can expect to save an additional $2,564 this year. These are real, tangible results that even the most cynical among us cannot deny.

This year, Tax Day is a day to celebrate, not only because the successes of tax reform are overwhelming, but also because they are just the beginning. We promised more jobs and bigger paychecks, and so far we’ve delivered just that for folks in Wisconsin and across America.

You can read the piece online here.

*Note this piece has been updated to reflect the benefits Quad/Graphics provided to its employees as a result of tax reform.

By: Sam Varghese of IT Wire

Both Democrats and Republicans from the US House of Representatives have characterised as "highly questionable" the FBI's claim that it could not gain access to 7800 mobile devices last year.

Their reaction came in a letter to FBI director Christopher Wray about the agency's actions in the 2016 stoush with Apple, over gaining access to an iPhone 5C belonging to a terrorist who had killed Americans in San Bernardino, California, in December 2015.

They cited a recent report from the Justice Department inspector-general that "undermines statements that the FBI made during the San Bernardino litigation and consistently since then, that only the device manufacturer (Apple) could provide a solution" to unlock the iPhone in question.

The inspector-general's report had said the FBI was not interested in unlocking tools developed by third parties and was looking to force Apple to provide a means of access to iPhones.

The House members added that recent reports that companies such as Cellebrite and GrayShift had developed tools to cheaply unlock nearly every phone on the market, including the latest version of iOS, raised even more concerns that the FBI had not been forthcoming about the extent of the problem of "going dark".

The FBI's stoush with Apple kicked off in February 2016, when the agency obtained a court order, asking the company to supply a new version of its mobile operating system, iOS, which did not have certain locking functions, so that the agency could attempt to guess the passcode on the iPhone 5C by using a brute force method.

When Apple resisted, the FBI came back with an order compelling the company to fall in line.

The matter was supposed to be heard in Court on 22 March 2016, but a day before this the FBI suddenly asked for a continuance until 5 April 2016 in order that a method proposed by an outside agency for breaking into the phone could be tested.

This method has apparently been a success. At the time it was reported that the outside party was the Israeli firm Cellebrite which was said to have been paid more than US$15,000 for the job.

Later in March, the FBI ended the stoush, saying it had gained access to the iPhone in question.

The US lawmakers, in their letter to Wray, asked the FBI to answer a number of questions regarding the "going dark" problem as soon as possible:

  • Whether the bureau had consulted third parties to understand what tools were available to help access device content;
  • Whether the FBI agreed that there were solutions on the market to decrypt nearly every device available and, if not, why these solutions were not sufficient;
  • Why the FBI could not unlock the 7800 devices it had mentioned and whether it had attempted to use third-party tools to unlock them;
  • Of the total locked phones, how many were equipped with biometrics, and how many had data available through a cloud service, as the latter would mean there was an additional means to access data or unlock phones; and
  • what was the rationale behind every instance of not using a third-party tool to unlock a device that was encrypted.

The letter was signed by Republicans Matt Gaetz (Florida), Darrell Issa (California), Jim Jordan (Ohio), James Sensenbrenner Jr (Wisconsin), and Ted Poe (Texas); and Democrats Suzan DelBene (Washington), Ted Lieu and Zoe Lofgren (both California), Jerrold Nadler (New York), and Jared Polis (Colorado).

By: Richard Chirgwin of The Register

Ten members of the US Congress have asked the FBI to explain its battles with Apple, after doubts were raised over the extent to which criminals use encryption to "go dark" and evade law enforcement authorities.

Criminals using encryption to evade law enforcement – "going dark" – is the foundation of the FBI's calls for a special legislative mathematics and not-backdoors that means good guys can access bad guys' messages, without compromising everyone else.

But a recent Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General report cast doubt on just how often crims "go dark". The report, by the Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG), included statements that “appear to indicate that the FBI was more interested in forcing Apple to comply than getting into the device”.

Now 10 members of Congress have written (PDF) to FBI director Christopher Wray asking for answers.

In their letter posted Friday, April 13, the group said they are "troubled" by the report, which was penned in the wake of the November 2015 attack by San Bernadino shooter Syed Farook. During its investigation into the incident, the FBI conducted a very public battle with Cupertino over access to Farook's encrypted iPhone. The FBI took Apple to court demanding a special iOS buildto crack the iPhone 5c, something Apple defended on the basis that it would set a bad legal precedent.

In March 2016, the Feds said they'd cracked the phone and withdrew the lawsuit, and later, then-FBI director James Comey said a third party banked more than a million dollars to crack the phone (which in the end didn't really help the case).

The OIG report suggested the FBI's Remote Operations Unit (ROU) might have access to a third-party vendor's crack for the iPhone, but investigators in the San Bernardino case didn't ask, and the ten Congressman would like to know why.

They're also concerned at hints that there's a degree of turf-warring within the FBI, between the ROU and the Cryptographic and Electronic Analysis Unit (CEAU), which was frustrated that the ROU's vendor contact jinxed its lawsuit: “The CEAU Chief told the OIG that … he became frustrated that the case against Apple could no longer go forward, and he vented his frustration to the ROU Chief.”

The letter says the timeline detailed in the OIG report “undermines statements that the FBI made … that only the device manufacturer could provide a solution”, and raises the possibility that “the FBI has not been forthcoming about the extent of the 'Going Dark' problem”.

They also highlight that rather than the more-than-a-million Comey discussed in 2016, Cellbrite claims it can unlock an iPhone for about US$1,500.

The group add that the FBI's claim that it was unable to crack 7,800 devices last year seems “highly questionable”, now the existence of third-party unlocking tools is common knowledge.

The letter asks the following questions of Wray:

  • Have you consulted with relevant third-party vendors to understand what tools are available to help the FBI access device content?
  • Do you agree that there are solutions available to help unlock or decrypt nearly every device on the market? If not, why are these solutions, particularly [Cellbrite and GrayShift], insufficient?
  • Why can't the FBI unlock the 7,800 devices? Have you attempted to use tools developed by third-parties to unlock these devices?
  • Of these locked phones, how many are equipped with biometrics or how many have data available through a cloud service, which would provide additional means to access data or unlock phones?
  • For each device that you have not used a third-party tool to unlock, what is the rationale for not doing so?

The signatories to the letter are Democrats Zoe Lofgren, Jerrold Nadler, Ted Leiu, Jared Polis and Suzan DelBene; and Republicans Darrell Issa, Jim Sensenbrenner, Ted Poe, Matt Gaetz, and Jim Jordan.

By: Morgan Chalfant of The Hill

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pressing FBI Director Christopher Wray on the bureau’s efforts to unlock encrypted devices after a critical watchdog report.

In a letter sent Friday, the lawmakers called into question recent statements made by Wray and others that the bureau is unable to access scores of devices for ongoing criminal investigations because of encryption — often referred to as the “going dark” problem. 

According to a report released last month, the Justice Department inspector general found that the FBI did not exhaust all avenues to unlock the iPhone of one of suspects in the 2015 San Bernardino terror attack before seeking a court order to force Apple to unlock the device. 

One FBI official also voiced concerns that agents weren’t exhausting all technical avenues to unlock the device because they wanted the suit against Apple to go forward. 

In the letter sent Friday, several House lawmakers labeled the inspector general report “troubling,” arguing that it undermines statements made by FBI officials that only device manufacturers could provide a solution to unlock encrypted devices.

The lawmakers also cited news reports that private companies like Cellebrite and Greyshift have developed capabilities to unlock encrypted phones. 

Taken together, they argued, the revelations cast doubt on Wray’s recent assertion that the FBI was unable to access 7,800 devices last fiscal year despite having relevant court orders. 

“According to your testimony and public statements, the FBI encountered 7,800 devices last year that it could not access due to encryption,” the lawmakers wrote. “However, in light of the availability of unlocking tools developed by third-parties and the OIG report’s findings that the Bureau was uninterested in seeking available third-party options, these statistics appear highly questionable.” 

The lawmakers are asking Wray to respond to several questions, including whether he has consulted with third-party vendors to understand tools that could be used to break encryption, and whether the bureau has attempted to use tools developed by third parties to access the 7,800 devices. 

The letter is signed by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Ted Poe (R-Texas), Jared Polis (D-Col.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Suzan DelBene(D-Wash.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

Wray and other Justice Department officials have stepped up talk about the challenge posed by encryption in recent months. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is said to be mounting a push for a legal mandate that would require tech companies to build tools into devices that would allow law enforcement access. 

There are also early efforts on Capitol Hill to explore potential encryption legislation.

Washington, D.C.—Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-05) voted to establish a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The resolution failed to meet the two-thirds threshold necessary for passage.

Congressman Sensenbrenner offered the following remarks during floor debate:

“Mr. Speaker the reason we have a big deficit is not due to a lack of tax revenue. It’s due to the fact that Congress spends too much money. Now let me repeat that. The deficit and the debt are not caused by a lack of tax revenue. It’s because there is too much money that is authorized and spent right here in the Congress of the United States. This proposed constitutional amendment will give us the discipline that we have not had as we’ve sat and watched the deficit go up and up and up and away.

It’s the responsibility of presidents of both political parties that this has happened. Maybe it is time for us to tell colleagues now and in the future and presidents now and in the future that the time to put things on the cuff is at an end.

I would say that doing what we have done, which means spending money on ourselves and sending the bill plus interest to the next generations is bad economics, but it’s also immoral. Now I have a grandson who is a little bit more than a year old, and unless Congress stops doing this, he’s going to end up having a debt that will boggle the mind that he and his contemporaries are going to have difficulty meeting.

So what do we need to do? Number one: We need to stop passing bloated omnibus bills, I voted no proudly on the omnibus bill, which busted the budget and added to the debt. We need to start getting honest about the fact that entitlement programs are spiraling out of control. That doesn’t mean cutting entitlement programs for existing people. It means slowing down their growth rate. But that’s something that nice people aren’t supposed to talk about, particularly here in Congress, but it’s something that is necessary if those entitlement programs are going to be worth anything for future generations when they may need them, rather than dealing with the present generation.

Now I know we can all count up our votes, and people vote now, and we are not going to be running in the future but the time has come to think about the future. That is why this constitutional amendment ought to be passed. Congress can’t discipline itself. The only thing that can discipline us is saying what Congress can’t do in the United States Constitution just like the first and second amendments. I yield back.”

Washington, D.C.Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-05) issued the following statement after House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that he will retire at the end of the 115th Congress:

“Paul Ryan will leave an indelible mark upon this institution. I am honored to have served with him and blessed to call him my friend. I’ve had the privilege of knowing Paul and his family throughout his career — from first-time candidate and junior lawmaker, to vice presidential candidate and committee chairman, to his current role as Speaker of the House. I wish him the best and know that he looks forward to spending more time with his wife and kids.”

By Kevin Derby of the Sunshine State News

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., part of the GOP congressional leadership in his role as senior deputy majority whip, continues to fight for his “Zero-based Budgeting Ensures Responsible Oversight (ZERO) Act” legislation.

The bill requires federal agencies and departments to "justify and approve" every line item on their budgets each year, rather than make slight changes to the previous year’s budget. The proposal has been a top priority for Ross since he first took his seat in Congress back in 2011. 

Ross introduced the latest incarnation of the bill back in January 2017. 

“With our national debt reaching nearly $20 trillion, we must take all measures possible to eliminate egregious government spending and ensure that hard-earned taxpayer dollars are spent wisely,” Ross said at that time. “That is why I reintroduced my legislation, the ZERO Act. This bill requires agency and department managers to justify every line item on their budgets each year so we can rein in the waste, fraud and abuse of massive government bureaucracies. American families and small businesses across my district and the U.S. know the best way to balance their budgets is to start at zero. Washington needs to follow their lead.”

Ross’s office pointed to both the private and public sectors, insisting zero-based budgeting helped “curb inflation and identify waste.” The proposal would ensure federal departments justify spending to Congress and would make all spending reviewed annually. Ross’s bill would also make federal departments propose three levels of spending, two of which must be below the current level. 

The Central Florida congressman showcased the proposal last week. 

“Since being elected, I have led the charge to implement long-term federal spending controls that create opportunities for economic prosperity and job growth in Florida and across the country,” Ross noted. “I have fought to mandate zero-based budgeting by the federal government. Families and small businesses in Florida start their budget at zero every year. It is time for your federal government to do the same. The ZERO Act will require agencies for the first time to fully and transparently identify waste and justify their budget. 

“As a father, I know we cannot continue to bankrupt our great nation. Our children and grandchildren are counting on us,” Ross added. “I have led by example. In fact, I have returned more than $635,000 to the U.S. Treasury from my office budget since taking office. Providing exceptional constituent service is a top priority, but as I demand good stewardship of taxpayer dollars by the entire federal government, my office works diligently to not waste a penny of taxpayer money. We must demonstrate that federal entities can all do more with less, which is why I make sure to work under budget and return excess money every year.  More can and must be done, however. The federal budget process has been broken for too long, and we must address our increasing federal debt.”   

Praising the “ historic tax reform package” backed by President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans, Ross insisted the federal government had been given a chance to assume more fiscal responsibility. 

“This once in a generation tax reform enacted by House Republicans, working closely with President Trump, also presents us an incredible opportunity to get our fiscal house in order.” Ross maintained. “That is why I have directed my staff to develop legislation that harnesses a portion of the economic growth attributed to tax reform and other pro-growth policies to pay down the debt. This ultimately benefits current and future generations, helping to instill confidence and optimism once again in the American economy.”

In the meantime, Ross’ ZERO Act is not showing much in the way of momentum on Capitol Hill. It has been languishing before the U.S. House Budget Committee for fifteen months and has picked up only one cosponsor--though admittedly a prominent one-- in U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., who has been in the House for almost four decades. 

By: Craig Gilbert and Bill Glauber of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

WASHINGTON - Mike Gallagher says it would be bad for the country if the president fired special counsel Robert Mueller.

Jim Sensenbrenner says he respects Mueller and thinks he should be allowed to finish his job.

Sean Duffy says Mueller’s investigation is “based on a sham.”

These three Republicans represent the Wisconsin congressional districts where Donald Trump enjoyed his biggest victory margins in 2016.

But their comments illustrate the different signals GOP lawmakers are sending about their level of support for the Mueller investigation as it has come under attack from President Trump and some of his allies.

The Journal Sentinel asked all 10 members of Congress from Wisconsin — six Republicans and four Democrats — how they view Trump’s recent criticisms of Mueller, whether they think Mueller should be allowed to complete his job, and how they would react if Trump fired Mueller.

Democrats said they supported legislation aimed at limiting the president’s ability to dismiss Mueller. And two — Mark Pocan of Dane County and Gwen Moore of Milwaukee — suggested firing the special counsel would be an impeachable offense. 

No Republican expressed support for bills to protect Mueller, saying such legislation exceeds the authority of Congress or is unnecessary.

“That legislation is obviously unconstitutional. The … Constitution gives the president almost unlimited authority over executive branch employees,” said Sensenbrenner.

But in an interview, Sensenbrenner said he respects Mueller, had a productive relationship with him when Sensenbrenner chaired the House judiciary committee and Mueller was FBI director, and “I’ve publicly stated Mueller ought to be allowed to complete his job.”

Sensenbrenner was not critical of Trump for his attacks on Mueller, which escalated earlier this month when the president invoked Mueller by name on Twitter in assailing the probe as biased. The White House has said there are no plans to dismiss Mueller.

“I take the president at his word that he’s not going to fire Mueller,” said Sensenbrenner. “I think he’s entitled to his opinion (about Mueller) just like Bill Clinton was entitled to his opinions on the Starr investigation.”

Green Bay’s Gallagher was the most pointed of any Wisconsin Republican in expressing concern about the issue underlying the Mueller investigation — Russian interference in the U.S. elections. 

Asked, “Are you troubled by President Trump's attacks on the special counsel?” Gallagher answered in a series of written responses to questions the newspaper asked of each lawmaker: “Our nation’s problems are not best solved using Twitter.”

“Would firing Mueller be bad for the country?” he was asked. He answered, “Yes, because it would spark even greater partisan hysteria than we've seen so far, thereby distracting everyone from the real issues of Russian aggression, and potential law enforcement and legal lapses.”

He was asked: “Are the president's attacks on the special counsel a threat to the rule of law? Would the special counsel's firing be such a threat?”

Gallagher answered, “I’m confident our rule of law is stronger than Twitter. This is also why the founders, in their infinite wisdom, separated powers in our government.”  

Gallagher, who has been very critical of Russia’s role, said: “If Congress is concerned about Russian aggression and violations of our sovereignty (as it should be), we should uncover any and all involvement, and hold those who broke the law accountable. Mueller has already indicted at least 17 individuals with criminal charges, including 13 Russians, and the administration (to their credit) used the power we granted under (last year’s sanctions bill) to sanction many of these same individuals. We should sanction (Vladimir) Putin and his corrupt cronies, and put our full economic, diplomatic, and military might at use to push back and hold Russia accountable.”

On legislation to protect Mueller, Gallagher said that "while I believe firing the special counsel in this situation would be a serious mistake," he has questions about the constitutionality of such bills, and has asked legal scholars for their views on the subject before taking a position. 

Other Republicans responded more tersely to the newspaper’s questions.

Glenn Grothman told a reporter Tuesday: “I just finished a day of listening sessions. My constituents are worried about excessive government spending, health care costs and school safety. And, therefore, I am spending my time on the above issues. If and when Mr. Mueller is let go, I will develop a position at that time.”

Duffy, whose northern Wisconsin district gave Trump his biggest victory margin in Wisconsin (just over 20 points), responded with this statement: “I’m not going to speculate about what will happen to Mueller, but his investigation is based on a sham. The only collusion that we have seen is from the Clinton campaign and Democrat National Committee paying an ex-British spy who used Russian sources to write a phony dossier. I agree with Chairmen Goodlatte and Gowdy in their call for a special counsel into the abuses of power and poor decision-making of the DOJ in 2016 and 2017. President Trump knows there has been no collusion and is rightfully frustrated when the media perpetuates this story.”

An aide to Sen. Ron Johnson referred the newspaper to a recent radio interview Johnson did in which he said he wasn’t concerned about Trump firing Mueller, saying at that time: "I don’t think he will — he said he won’t ... and I think there are plenty of members that have talked about that — that would be very counterproductive for the president to do that.”

In the same interview with WHBY radio last week, Johnson also expressed some reservations about the Mueller investigation:

“I really wanted the Senate and House intelligence committees to complete their work before we even considered appointing a special counsel. The problem with special counsels — the problem with any prosecution as it relates to congressional investigations — is once you have a criminal investigation or something that might lead to prosecution it gets very difficult for members of Congress to obtain the information they need to conclude our work as well. I think it was unfortunate that Robert Mueller was appointed prior to the completion of that work.”

Aides to House Speaker Paul Ryan of Janesville referred the newspaper to a raft of public statements Ryan has made about the Mueller investigation.

At a news conference March 20, Ryan said: “The special counsel should be free to follow through with its investigation to completion without interference. Absolutely. I am confident that he’ll be able to do that. I’ve received assurances that his firing is not even under consideration. We have a system based upon the rule of law in this country. We have a justice system and no one is above that justice system.”

In comments last year on a Wisconsin talk radio show, Ryan said, “Remember, Bob Mueller is a Republican who was appointed by a Republican who served in the Republican administration who crossed over and stayed on 'til his term ended. I don't think many people are saying Bob Mueller is a person who is a biased partisan. He's really, sort of, anything but.”

Among Wisconsin Democrats, Sen. Tammy Baldwin said she backs two bipartisan bills to protect Mueller’s independence.

“There is a pattern of the president attempting to interfere with, and undermine, the investigation,” she said in written answers to the Journal Sentinel’s questions.

Baldwin said, “Firing the special counsel would be crossing a red line and a clear attack on the rule of law,” and called on lawmakers in both parties to “speak out and impress upon President Trump that if he has nothing to hide, he should cooperate with the Mueller investigation, not end it.”  

Baldwin called Russia a hostile power and said, “Putin directed an attack on our democracy that interfered with our elections. This isn’t a hoax and Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation is not a witch hunt.”

Pocan has also signed on to legislation aimed at protecting Mueller.

“I've watched (President Trump) repeatedly try to do everything he can to derail the Mueller investigation, including his most recent attempts to try and intimidate and threaten people who might be trying to testify,” Pocan said in an interview.

If Mueller were fired, "That would be something that would rise to the level of me actively pursuing the impeachment process,” said Pocan. “With an issue like that, I think there are enough rank-and-file Republicans that I've had private conversations with that also share some of the things I have in this area. I think we would be at a point that we actually could impeach the president. I think that would be the proper response for someone who obstructed justice."

In the event of Mueller's firing, Moore said she would "prevail upon Paul Ryan to allow various articles of impeachment to come forward."

"If he gets fired then presumably Donald Trump and his supporters will see that as the end of the investigation," she said. "I think clearly that would be obstruction of justice and that should be the first article of impeachment."

Moore said that Trump has attacked the courts and an independent Justice Department and Mueller's potential ouster would be "the crown jewel" of such attacks.

She remained hopeful that Mueller's investigation would proceed and cautioned about the enormity of the stakes.

"The president said right from the beginning that his financial affairs, his businesses in his mind, were off-limits," she said. "He only wanted them to look at so-called collusion and 'there's no collusion.' "

"I think as the president gets more irritated by Mueller of getting close to him, not only is there a threat of him being fired, there's a threat of saber rattling with Iran and North Korea," she added. "So this is a very frightening time for all of us."

"I think we need to protect this investigation for the sake, not only of our country, but of the world," she said.

Democrat Ron Kind of La Crosse said in a statement: 

"Any type of foreign government interference in our election process is an all-hands-on-deck moment. We need to find out what weaknesses we have in our election processes, and take steps to make sure it doesn't happen again. 

"The president and his administration must continue to allow Special Counsel Mueller and his team conduct their investigation, so we can get back to dealing with issues that matter to Wisconsinites, like creating jobs and growing our local economy." 

By: Rick Romell of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

When it comes to the general idea of using eminent domain to seize someone's private property in the name of economic development, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan hasn’t minced words.

He has called it an abuse of power and “wrong,” and twice has voted for bills — one of which he co-sponsored — to curb the practice.

But when it comes to the specific case of the Village of Mount Pleasant possibly using eminent domain to take homes away from people in the area where Foxconn Technology Group plans to build a $10 billion manufacturing complex, Ryan, who represents the village's residents in Congress, doesn’t have much to say.

“Kim, I wish I could assist you in addressing this matter,” Ryan wrote in January to a constituent worried about losing her home to the Foxconn project through eminent domain. “Unfortunately, I am unable to provide you with the assistance you need, as this issue is one that falls under the primary jurisdiction of the State of Wisconsin, not the federal government.”

Ryan struck a much different tone in 2005, when he co-sponsored a bill to deny federal economic development money to states or communities that use eminent domain to take private property without the owner’s consent and turn it over to another private party for use in a profit-seeking business.

“When someone works years to secure a home or establish a successful family store or restaurant, only to be forced by the government to give it up so a corporation can redevelop the land, that’s wrong,” Ryan declared at the time.

“I took an oath to defend the Constitution, and this means protecting citizens’ right to own private property and prevent government from abusing its power,” he said in a news release after voting with the 376-38 House majority to pass the bill.

The legislation, proposed in the wake of a widely criticized U.S. Supreme Court decision that authorized the government's taking of private property for private development, went no further. Similar bills have been introduced in every congressional session since without being enacted.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, like Ryan a Wisconsin Republican, has been an especially strong advocate for curbing use of eminent domain for economic development. He has introduced the “Private Property Rights Protection Act” five times.

The one time the legislation came up for a roll-call vote in the House, in 2014, Ryan voted for it.

The Mount Pleasant resident seeking Ryan’s help was Kim Mahoney, who with her husband, James, owns a home at 10440 Prairie View Drive. The property is in a small subdivision on the 1,200-acre tract where Foxconn plans to build a factory that could employ thousands building flat-panel monitors.

Mahoney said she called Ryan’s office in Washington and spoke with a staffer about the village’s potential use of eminent domain to acquire land for Foxconn. In response, the congressman on Jan. 5 sent a letter saying he could understand her frustration and concerns, but couldn’t help.

He recommended that she reach out to Gov. Scott Walker and her representatives in the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate, and included their contact information.

“I appreciate you trusting me to address this matter, and I regret that I do not have the jurisdiction to directly intervene on your behalf,” Ryan wrote. “However, if I can ever be of assistance to you in any matter that directly involves an agency of the federal government, please do not hesitate to let me know.”

Mahoney scoffed at that.

“Private property rights are guaranteed under the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S Constitution,” she said. “And if Congressman Ryan did not think eminent domain abuse by local municipalities was a federal issue, then why did he co-sponsor” the original Private Property Rights Protection Act?

“It’s happening in his own district,” Mahoney said. “His claim that it is not a federal issue — it’s absurd and it's chicken (expletive). I don’t know if that’s one or two words.” 

A related issue that has irritated Mahoney and other owners of small parcels of property in the Foxconn area involves money.

Mount Pleasant has said it will offer homeowners 40% more than the market value price required by state law. But the owners of large pieces of open farmland — the key component in assembling the huge amount of real estate Foxconn needs — got a far greater premium.

They were paid $50,000 an acre. Real estate records indicate that open land previously was selling for a fraction of that price. Four separate parcels of open land within the designated Foxconn area sold between 2011 and 2014 at prices ranging from about $4,300 an acre to just under $8,000 an acre.

Asked by a reporter what Ryan thinks about the prospect of Mount Pleasant using eminent domain authority in a way that he previously has described as an abuse of government power, a spokesman for the House Speaker said by email:

“While the congressman continues to believe that Foxconn will bring a new era of manufacturing to the State of Wisconsin, he has not been involved in the local land acquisition process related to this project.”

Ryan has said Foxconn, with its plans to employ up to 13,000 people at good pay, is “an absolute game changer” for Wisconsin. He has said he helped advocate for the state with Foxconn CEO Terry Gou, and he stood beside Gou and Gov. Scott Walker when they announced the deal at the White House in July and when they signed a development contract in November.

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Reps. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., today rolled out legislation that would require the president to disclose the topline annual budget request to Congress from each of the 16 federal agencies conducting intelligence activities. Currently, spending levels for these federal intelligence agencies and activities is classified and hidden from the public.

The Intelligence Budget Transparency Act would require the president’s annual budget request to make public the amount of funding budgeted for intelligence agencies and activities, creating greater transparency and oversight over how much is spent annually by the intelligence community.

By operating secret programs funded by secret budgets, our national intelligence agencies enjoy a blank check as far as the American taxpayers are concerned,” Wyden said. “With little to no public oversight, it is even more important that Americans have at least some sense of whether they’re getting what they paid for. Requiring the disclosure of these budget requests is the first step in achieving greater accountability and transparency of these agencies.”

“Protecting our national security means keeping many things secret from our enemies, but Congress should not be the ones in the dark. Just as the military can provide budget information without jeopardizing our security, so too can the Intelligence Community. This bill would declassify the top-line budget number of each of our Intelligence Community entities, adding a level of much-needed transparency,” said Senator Paul

"The biggest threat to the success of any federal program is a combination of unlimited money and non-existent oversight. That's the situation Congress has allowed to develop in the critical work of intelligence gathering,” Welch said. “The top-line intelligence budgets for America's 16 intelligence agencies are unknown to the American taxpayer and largely unknown to the Members of Congress who represent them. It's led to dubious policies, wasted money and questionable effectiveness. Americans have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent and that their national security interests are being well served.”

“Properly funding our intelligence gathering agencies is critical to keeping Americans safe and secure. However, failure to disclose budgetary requests for these agencies does not meet the most basic government transparency standards,” Sensenbrenner said. “By declassifying the top-line budgets of each agency, this bill expands accountability to make certain taxpayer dollars are spent effectively while still protecting national security.” 

The bill would require disclosure of funding requests from the following agencies: Air Force Intelligence, Army Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, Coast Guard Intelligence, Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Treasury, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Marine Corps Intelligence, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, National Security Agency, Department of State, and Navy Intelligence.