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A top Republican House member on Wednesday proposed eliminating the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, writing a bill that would freeze all hiring at the troubled agency and require the Justice Department to come up with a plan for transferring its duties to other agencies.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the Wisconsin Republican who wrote the bill, called it both a chance to streamline government and to clean up an agency that’s been criticized from the right and the left for botched gun-running operations.

“The ATF is a largely duplicative, scandal ridden agency that lacks a clear mission. It is plagued by backlogs, funding gaps, hiring challenges and a lack of leadership,” said Mr. Sensenbrenner, who is a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

ATF came under heat for the Fast & Furious operation that saw agents knowingly let guns get into the hands of cartels who trafficked them across the border into Mexico, where they were used in a number of crimes. Weapons from the operation also turned up at the scene where Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed.

Congress is still investigating that operation, as well as another ATF sting operation that used storefronts to try to catch gun traffickers — but which ended up losing weapons and targeting mentally challenged individuals for prosecutions.

Mr. Sensenbrenner’s ATF Elimination Act would transfer firearms enforcement to the FBI, and send alcohol and tobacco duties to the Drug Enforcement Agency.

View online, here.
Before Members of Congress leave town to do battle in this fall’s election, the Senate should pass the USA Freedom Act.  This bill would amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (or FISA) to end one of the NSA’s most controversial intelligence collection programs: the dragnet collection of U.S. citizens’ phone call records.

The House passed a version of this bill last May.  But privacy advocates, who initially championed the bill, withdrew their support after amendments that undermined the bill’s privacy safeguards were added before passage.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill. His bill beefs up the privacy protections by ensuring that data collection is targeted.  Unlike the House bill, which would allow the government to collect records by broad categories that could return large swaths of data unrelated to the target of an investigation, the Leahy bill would limit the government’s queries of data to “specific selection terms.”

The Leahy bill has bipartisan support in the Senate and the backing of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who sponsored the bill in the House.  Sensenbrenner’s support is significant.  He has a long history of backing expansive intelligence collection authorities and was the principal architect of the PATRIOT Act, which included the “business records” provision that the government relies on for the bulk collection program.

As was reported last year, the government uses the bulk collection program to develop “contact chains” in an effort to discover associations and communications between known and suspected terrorists.  Until recently, the government had argued that it needed all call records in order to determine which ones were useful.  But a program that amasses this information about everyone, including law-abiding citizens, also creates significant privacy risks.

Although metadata do not reveal the contents of communications, when aggregated and mined with sophisticated algorithms, they can expose sensitive information about our social, political, and religious associations and activities.  Call patterns, for instance, can reveal intimate relationships, medical and psychiatric help that someone seeks, the identity of whistleblowers, and more.

The administration eventually acknowledged that the bulk collection program creates privacy risks.  And it has conceded that the Intelligence Community could achieve its objectives through a less intrusive program.  In a speech at the Department of Justice last January, the President announced that the administration would end the program and would seek alternative intelligence collection methods.

President Obama can change how his administration operates this program, but only Congress can change the law.  If Congress does not act, a future administration could seek to use FISA to collect not just bulk phone records, but also other kinds of digital “metadata,” such as location information that our phones transmit and other types of transactional records.

The data that will be potentially available to the government is staggering.  According to the International Data Corporation, the amount of digital information that people generate doubles every two years, with 7.9 zettabytes – an amount equal to 18 million times the amount of information in the Library of Congress – expected by 2015.  What’s more, we are at the dawn of the “Internet of Things,” a new era of connectivity where appliances in our homes and offices, our cars, medical and fitness devices we use, and even our clothing will be equipped with sensors and connected to the Internet.

As data storage capacity increases and analytical tools improve, the government will be tempted to collect and analyze more data in the hopes of discovering new ways to predict threats to our national security.  But just because the government has the technical capability to collect and analyze unprecedented amounts of personal information does not mean it should.  We must be vigilant in protecting national security, but we also must ensure that our government’s use of new technological tools does not erode the privacy and civil liberties of law-abiding citizens.  

The Leahy bill will ensure that our government’s surveillance efforts are targeted and effective.  The Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence made that clear earlier this month when they voiced support for the bill, calling it a “reasonable compromise” and stating that it “preserves essential Intelligence Community capabilities.”  Privacy advocates, too, strongly support the bill, as do technology companies.

All of the relevant stakeholders are at the table.  They are in full agreement that the Leahy bill strikes the right balance in protecting national security and civil liberties.  It is time for the Senate to act.

View online, here.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) sent the following letter to Senators Reid and McConnell today, urging them to move the USA FREEDOM Act:

Dear Senators Reid and McConnell,

As you know, Senator Leahy and I introduced the USA FREEDOM Act to reform the National Security Agency and strengthen Congressional oversight of the intelligence community.  These reforms are a necessary response to NSA overreach and the unnecessary intrusion into the lives of innocent Americans.

While Senator Leahy and I both hold sacred the personal liberties afforded by the Constitution, neither of us are naïve to the threats we face as a nation.  In my view, drafting and negotiating the FREEDOM Act has been less about balancing freedom and security than about recognizing that neither freedom nor security should be compromised.  The FREEDOM Act is a legislative solution that recognizes this truth.

That we succeeded is evident from the bill’s supporters.  The FREEDOM Act is backed by liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.  More importantly, it has the support of both the intelligence community and the country’s staunchest privacy advocates.  In a letter to Senator Leahy, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Attorney General Eric Holder wrote, “the Intelligence Community believes that [the FREEDOM Act] preserves essential Intelligence Community capabilities; and the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence support your bill and believe that it is a reasonable compromise that enhances privacy and civil liberties and increases transparency.” 

Senator Leahy’s most recent draft, which I fully endorse, has the support of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and countless other privacy advocates and technology companies. 

This coming together of the intelligence community and privacy advocates is historic.

It would be a critical mistake not to take advantage of this coalition.  Without Congressional action, Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act will sunset next June.  Many privacy advocates believe they will have increased leverage next year as the sunset approaches.  Some of their proposed reforms, however, are redlines for the Administration.  As a result, there is no guarantee that the coalition we built can be rebuilt.  The cost could be losing privacy protections, improved transparency, and important intelligence gathering tools.  

The House has already passed the USA FREEDOM Act.  I urge the Senate to follow suit.  It is past time to secure the Constitutional rights of American citizens and restore the country’s faith in its intelligence community. 

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) had the following response to President Barack Obama’s speech on ISIS:

“It is now abundantly clear that ISIS is far more than part of a JV-level threat. It is a highly-structured and well-funded terrorist network that threatens everything we value. President Obama’s weak-kneed response has allowed ISIS to wreak havoc across the Middle East, rapidly expanding across the region. I agree that we must carefully consider our available options, but as the world’s super power equipped with the strongest military in the world, we cannot lead from behind. The world is watching.  

“The longer we take to destroy ISIS, the more America and its allies are at risk. Iraqi security forces and Syrian opposition are incapable of neutralizing this threat. A Joint Session of Congress is necessary so we can have a vigorous debate on how to ensure ISIS is annihilated. Not only must we address the danger it poses in the Middle East, but also vulnerabilities at home. ISIS is well-armed with sophisticated weapons—much more so than Al Qaeda 13 years ago. Unless President Obama changes course, our porous borders provide ISIS the opportunity to infiltrate our country. I was glad to see the President finally commit to defeating ISIS, but I am afraid his plan doesn’t go far enough. We must do everything in our power to protect Americans.”
Each year on Labor Day we honor the hardworking Americans who form the backbone of our economy. Last week at Milwaukee’s Laborfest, President Obama touted that over 200,000 new jobs have been created each month over the past six months. But it appears the President spoke too soon.

Last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the U.S. economy added only 142,000 jobs in August, significantly less than the 200,000 jobs the President flaunted days earlier. In fact, August marks the lowest level of jobs added this year.

It is time to pursue sustainable ways to boost our economy without deterring employers from hiring.

Burdening job creators with high taxes and red tape is not the solution. In an annual survey, Wisconsin business owners were asked what would improve Wisconsin’s business climate and 23 percent said tax cuts, while 18 percent said regulatory relief. In the same survey, 33 percent said “economic slowdown” was the top business concern facing their companies. To keep unelected bureaucrats from stalling economic growth, Washington should promote business-friendly reforms and get Americans back to work.

The Wisconsin economy relies heavily on the manufacturing and agriculture industries. The manufacturing industry currently accounts for one-fifth of Wisconsin’s economy. Its 9,400 manufacturers employ over 450,000 people, making up 17 percent of the state’s workforce. We were ranked fifth in the nation for manufacturing job creation from 2009-2012. We should support educating a skilled workforce to allow employees to expand their careers and climb the ladder while giving employers the flexibility to grow their businesses.

The agriculture industry generates another 10 percent of our state’s workforce. Over 354,000 Wisconsinites rely directly on agriculture for their jobs. Farming generates over $59 billion annually for our state and the Fifth District alone has over 3,400 farms that contribute over $600 million to Wisconsin’s economy. Most of Wisconsin farms are family-owned and the number of farms in Wisconsin decreased by more than 10 percent from 2007-2012. Washington should adopt pro-growth policies that expand export opportunities and allow farmers to keep more of their hard earned money so they are able to make critical investments in their operations to stay competitive.  

Increasing costs and regulations for businesses is not the right solution for our economy. Despite the President’s shortsighted fiscal strategy, we must protect incentives to work hard while creating solutions that create economic stability and reduce the tax burden on American businesses and families. 

President Barack Obama has announced that he will act on legislation authored by U.S. Reps. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) to posthumously award Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing with the Medal of Honor. Lt. Cushing, a Wisconsin-born Civil War hero, played a key role in securing a victory for the Union in the Battle of Gettysburg.

Congressman Kind: “Even after more than 150 years, it’s never too late to do the right thing for our war heroes. Lt. Cushing richly deserves his Medal of Honor, and as a Wisconsinite and an American I feel honored to have helped lead the effort in Congress to make this happen.”

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “I am pleased that First Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing will finally receive our nation’s highest military honor. Awarding the Medal of Honor to Lt. Cushing, a native of Delafield, Wisconsin, culminates more than two decades of bipartisan work and is long overdue. Lt. Cushing was a courageous leader who at just 22 years of age, gave his life to protect our sovereign nation at the Battle of Gettysburg. His exceptional bravery and determination on the battlefield should serve as an inspiration to us all.”

A native of Delafield, WI, Alonzo Cushing’s actions on the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg helped turn the tide during Pickett’s Charge. Three days into the battle on July 3, 1863, Cushing and the 110 men under his command received the full force of Confederate artillery and Pickett’s Charge of 13,000 infantry. Over the course of just a few hours, all of his officers had been killed and Cushing himself was badly injured. Continuing to fight, he sustained two more wounds before succumbing to his wounds on the field of battle.

The legislation passed by Congress made it possible to waive the requirement that recommendations for the Medal of Honor be made within two years of the heroic action, and awarded within three years.  Lt. Cushing’s medal can now be awarded, having received the recommendation of the Department of Defense and the approval of the President. Earlier this year, Reps. Kind and Sensenbrenner sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel requesting his prompt attention to Lt. Cushing’s record.

The Border Crisis

August 12, 2014

The unprecedented influx of illegal immigrants and unaccompanied alien children (UACs) has created a crisis that demands a strong legislative response. This is an emergency with humanitarian, national security and financial consequences. 

The White House bypassed Congress and implemented policies encouraging individuals to enter our country illegally. In 2012, President Obama announced his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, halting deportation proceedings for certain young immigrants who unlawfully entered the country. In response, children are risking their lives to cross the border. It is estimated that the United States will apprehend 90,000 children in 2014—a drastic increase from the 6,500 illegal minors caught crossing the border in 2011. 

Even more shocking are recent reports from Customs and Border Protection that young men from Africa and the Middle East are also illegally crossing our southern border. Through the President’s message of amnesty, he has exposed our citizens to threats of terrorism, gang violence, and communicable diseases. 

In direct response, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5230 and H.R. 5272, which would stop the flow of illegal immigration and block President Obama’s executive amnesty. 

This legislation focuses on securing the border, providing humanitarian aid to unaccompanied children, and preventing any future influx of illegal immigrants. It is offset through spending cuts and the redirection of existing federal funds, so it comes at no additional cost to taxpayers. These two bills provide the necessary funding for law enforcement officials to do their job and enforce our existing laws.

These bills also add language to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. As Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, I have continuously fought to end human trafficking, which is one of the fastest growing areas of international criminal activity. Coyotes have exploited the President’s weak immigration policies and profited from children along their treacherous journey, often selling them into sex slavery. 

Once again, this administration has proven to be among the least transparent in history. In January, it requested “Escort Services for Unaccompanied Alien Children”—months before the surge was reported. 

I have written letters (June 19 & July 22) to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell regarding the surge of UACs and its impact on Wisconsin, but she has not responded to the safety and public health concerns that could directly impact our communities. 

To protect states’ rights and safeguard the individual rights of those who are in our country legally, we must demand transparency and accountability from our government.

I introduced the UAC State Authority Act, which would require the Secretary of HHS to notify a governor before transferring any UACs to his or her state and allows state governors a right-of-refusal. In short, it gives states the power to decide whether the federal government can house UACs within their borders. The sudden surge of illegal immigrants demands federal action, but the security and sovereignty of our states should not be jeopardized in the process.  

The President’s unilateral approach to addressing the border crisis simply does not work. By restoring some power to the states, Congress and our local leaders can work together to solve the problems facing our nation at the southern border, but amnesty is not the answer. The President has had six years to prevent this crisis, but chose not to. The Senate had the opportunity to take legislative action, but went home instead. The House chose to act and make a clear statement to those seeking citizenship in the United States: illegal activity will not be rewarded. We must secure the border and eliminate incentives for illegal immigration.
During the House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing Wednesday titled, “EPA’s Carbon Plan: Failure by Design,” the committee examined the implementation of technology-based standards under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.): “In his ideological pursuit of climate change reform, President Obama has chosen to disregard the facts. A Democrat-controlled Congress rejected “Cap-and-Tax” in 2009 because it would be bad for jobs. Nevertheless, this administration continues to pursue a radical climate change agenda that would have a crushing impact on the economy, especially in coal dependent states like Wisconsin. The EPA rule is yet another example of the White House bypassing Congress to exert its will on the American people.”

Charles McConnell, the Executive Director of the Energy and Environment Initiative at Rice University, said in his testimony, “It’s certainly not impactful environmental regulation,” and was “developed for political leverage in a global climate discussion.” McConnell added, “It impacts a fully developed .18 percent of the global CO2 that’s emitted in the world, less than two-tenths of a percent. It will impact global warming and climate change by .01 degrees centigrade. And that, if you do the mathematics in climate change technology, would affect the level of sea-rise by about one-third the thickness of this dime that I am holding.”

The proposed rule is 645 pages and in an effort to be “flexible,” the EPA has created a convoluted “building-block” structure that will require the states to comply with certain benchmarks.  The concern is that this will inevitably lead to a cap-and-tax plan, at least regionally, since the states have such a short amount of time to compose their own carbon reduction plans. Further, power companies are unsure of how the rules will affect them.  They are dependent on state plans, which have to be constructed in a very short time period.

The EPA’s own analysis of its rules projects an electricity price increase of 6-7 percent in 2020 and annual compliance costs between $5.4 and $7.4 billion in 2020 and $8.8 billion in 2030. Since 2001, energy costs for middle and lower-income families have increased by 27 percent, while their incomes have declined by 22 percent.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, CO2 emissions from U.S. power plants represent only 4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Between 2011 and 2030, non-U.S. power sector carbon emissions are projected to increase by 4,692 million tons—offsetting the reductions coming from EPA’s rule more than eight times over. Because of its growing economy, China emits about 45 percent more CO2 in one month than EPA’s proposal will reduce in an entire year.

Like under a cap-and-tax proposal, states that rely more heavily on coal will be more negatively affected. Since some state’s energy needs are more coal dependent, to be in compliance with the building blocks, these states would find themselves at a bigger disadvantage than those states with other energy sources. No state could achieve these goals through technological or operating improvements at coal fired power plants.  Instead, any state plan would inevitably require wholesale changes to how the state’s utilities provide electricity to the public (i.e. more wind, solar, etc.).

The initial high level annual cost estimates for the state of Wisconsin to implement the four building blocks included in EPA’s greenhouse gas proposal are about $175-$350 million in 2020—increasing to about $300-600 million by 2030.

President Obama is ignoring real world issues and exaggerating the benefits of the rule in an effort to meet the demands of a climate change ideology.
Crime Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) introduced H.R. 5253, the UAC State Authority Act. The legislation would add language to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 to ensure that the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) notify a governor prior to the transfer of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) to their state. This bill would also provide for a 10-day period during which the governor of the state may submit to the Secretary an objection to the proposed transfer, giving governors a right-of-refusal. It expressly gives states the power to decide whether the federal government can establish housing facilities for UACs within their borders.  

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “While I recognize the severity and sensitivity of this crisis, we must secure the border and make a clear statement to those seeking citizenship in the United States: Illegal activity will not be rewarded. The administration should be transparent about its intentions.  States should be fully informed of HHS’s plans to house UACs within their communities, and governors should have the ability to prevent the federal government from establishing housing facilities in their state.”

June 19: Sensenbrenner Sends Letter to HHS Secretary Burwell on the Surge of UACs
July 10: Sensenbrenner Sends Letter to Obama on the Surge of UACs
July 16: President Barack Obama created the border crisis
July 22: Sensenbrenner Sends Follow-Up Letter to HHS Secretary on the Surge of UACs and Its Impact on Wisconsin
Note: Still awaiting a response from HHS Secretary Burwell.

Congressman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) is an original cosponsor of the UAC State Authority Act.

Congressman Turner:
“The ability of the federal government to hand-pick a city, county, or state as a UAC receiver site without first consulting the governor’s office disregards the real impact these decisions have on regional communities and significantly diminishes states’ rights. Governors must be the decision makers because the increased burden of housing these illegal immigrants ultimately falls to the states and extends across multiple agencies, communities, and jurisdictions."

Last October, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) introduced the USA FREEDOM Act. On May 7, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed an amended USA FREEDOM Act.  The following day, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence approved that legislation by voice vote. On May 22, the House of Representatives passed a further amended USA FREEDOM Act by a vote of 303-121. Chairman Leahy introduced today a USA FREEDOM Act that reclaims lost provisions from the original bill and strengthens privacy protections.

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “In May, after months of negotiations, the House passed an amended USA FREEDOM Act with broad bipartisan support. The primary challenge was to draft legislation that protects Americans’ civil liberties without undermining core functions of law enforcement and intelligence collection. Today, Chairman Leahy introduced a compromise that strengthens the privacy protections of the House bill while retaining support from the Administration and intel community. By reclaiming important provisions stripped from our original bill, tech giants and privacy advocates have reestablished their support. I hope the Senate works expeditiously to pass the USA FREEDOM Act and eagerly await the President signing it into law.”