Feingold returns to challenge Johnson for U.S. Senate seat

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Frank Schultz
Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The race for U.S. Senate is a rematch of a 2010 battle, when Ron Johnson wrested the seat from longtime Sen. Russ Feingold, a Janesville native.

Feingold is back, flying the progressive banner, against Johnson, whom many describe as a tea party Republican.

Also on the ballot is Libertarian Phil Anderson, a Fitchburg businessman. Anderson did not respond to Gazette requests for information.

Feingold and Johnson are far apart on most issues. Johnson advocates small government and says Feingold is a career politician who believes in a wider government role.

Both say their ideas will turn the economy around for working-class Wisconsinites.

Johnson says lower taxes and freeing businesses from government regulations will create jobs.

Feingold supports government spending on infrastructure to create jobs and job training. He supports family paid leave.

Feingold has been known as a maverick, famously co-writing a campaign finance reform law with Republican Sen. John McCain and voting against the Iraq War in 2002.

Feingold was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act, which allowed surveillance of U.S. citizens as an anti-terrorism measure, raising privacy issues. He later worked to modify the law.

Johnson has supported the Patriot Act and criticized Feingold's vote.

Johnson is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where he has come out strongly for border security and for a ground assault on ISIS in Syria and Iraq, using U.S. and allied troops.

Feingold has supported more U.S. spying efforts on the ground and targeted air strikes against ISIS, as well as cutting off ISIS' finances.

Feingold calls for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Johnson said any raise should be tied to inflation.

Q: How serious a problem is the rising national debt?

Feingold: “I strongly believe that our elected representatives have a fundamental obligation to act as good stewards of our tax dollars.

“To confront the rising national debt, we must commit to working on a bipartisan basis to pass common-sense spending cuts and tax reforms. I've outlined those reforms in my proposed Federal Fiscal Fitness Plan, which includes eliminating wasteful corporate tax loopholes and allowing Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs.

“That second measure alone would save the government $123 billion over 10 years. That's real money that will go a long way toward addressing national debt.”

Johnson: “I agree with Admiral Mike Mullen, who said the greatest threat to our national security is our debt and deficits.

“Currently, our total debt exceeds $19 trillion and will increase by $103 trillion over the next 30 years. We need to stop denying reality and begin promoting robust economic growth as the No. 1 component of a solution.

“Boosting annual growth to 3 percent adds $14 trillion to our economy over 10 years. Boosting it to 4 percent adds $29 trillion. This will bring in more revenue to tackle our debt and save vital programs like Medicare and Social Security.”

Q: How serious a problem is illegal immigration?

Feingold: “I consistently hear from Wisconsin businesses and families that Congress must return to a bipartisan effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

“That means securing the border and making sure undocumented immigrants have a path to citizenship, so that employers and workers can operate above-board.

“It's the humane thing to do, and it'll ensure Wisconsin's agricultural workforce remains fully staffed.”

Johnson: “As chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, border security is one of my top priorities. We need to strengthen our border to keep our enemies and drugs out of the country and protect local communities.

“At the same time, we need to fix our legal immigration system by reforming the H-2A agriculture visa that would better serve the 40 percent of Wisconsin dairy workers that are immigrants.

“Guest workers are crucial to the success of our farmers, and they provide a reliable stream of labor. The federal government shouldn't stand in the way of farmers getting access to the labor they need.”

Q: Describe one thing you have done as a legislator that has made a difference in citizens' lives.

Feingold: “I'm incredibly proud of the work I did to expand access to health care for Wisconsin veterans. …

“I heard from veterans in places like Hayward and Rice Lake who were having trouble accessing necessary services because the closest VA facility was just too far from their homes. So I led the charge to get clinics established in Hayward and Rice Lake, expanding care to hundreds of veterans in those areas.

“I also listened to veterans and their families concerned about lack of counseling and other services, and I again worked hard to start up vet centers in Green Bay and La Crosse, expanding counseling, outreach and referral services to veterans.”

Johnson: “I've worked with Pastor Smith and the Greater Praise Church of God in Christ to help start the Joseph Project—a community-based initiative that's transforming lives in inner-city Milwaukee by connecting them with good-paying jobs.

“Federal anti-poverty programs have failed too many people, and it's local solutions, not big federal government, that will help people find careers and turn their lives around.”

Johnson also listed his backing for construction of the Stillwater Bridge, helping get funding for high-speed broadband and proposing the PROP Act to reduce the over-prescription of opioids. 

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