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Two Democrats running for Ryan's seat show differences in debate

LAKE GENEVA

Toward the end of Sunday night’s debate between the Democratic candidates for the 1st Congressional District, moderator Joy Cardin asked how two progressives could appeal to voters in a district that leans to the center-right.

Randy Bryce said government should lift people up, and he favors policies that help working people.

Cathy Myers said she would make sure she spends a lot of time listening to constituents, something she said she is doing on the campaign trail.

Those responses were brief. The candidates talked a lot more during their 90 minutes on stage at Badger High School, detailing positions that will play well with Democratic partisans in the Aug. 14 primary.

But they did display a few differences.

Both called for universal background checks for gun purchases and banning assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.

“We have a right in this country to go to school and not be shot, a right to walk down the street, to go to church or to the mall or to a concert. ... This isn’t a Second Amendment issue at all. This is about money and being able to sell guns,” Myers said.

Bryce said he owns a gun and supports hunters.

“The majority of hunters are responsible, and they understand the need for common-sense gun control, most of them,” he said.

Bryce also signaled a willingness to work with anyone to keep jobs from going overseas. He said it’s the only issue on which he agrees with President Donald Trump, although he said Trump is going about it all wrong.

Myers said nothing about working with Trump.

For most of the night, however, the ironworker from Caledonia and schoolteacher from Janesville kept the audience of about 400 happy with liberal-leaning answers.

They both say they would protect Medicare and Social Security.

Both detest the recent tax bill that they say benefited the wealthiest in society.

Both would make changes to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

Both deplored the separation of children from parents as asylum seekers come to the Southern border.

If you’re not crying “bloody murder” about that policy, “you don’t get to claim family values,” Bryce said.

Both spoke of their background in unions. Both called for investments in roads, light rail and other infrastructure, as well as “green” energy to create jobs.

Bryce said high-speed internet should be part of that infrastructure, and to pay for all that, “we need to make those who profit the most pay their fair share. That’s how we get it done.”

Bryce added later: “Pay your fair share so we don’t have to work till we drop dead.”

Myers called for a minimum wage of $15 an hour. She said it’s unconscionable that so many people like her two children, who are struggling with college debt, can’t get jobs to pay their bills.

Both want “Medicare for all” as a way to provide universal coverage.

The country needs not only a clean DREAM Act for people brought into the country illegally as children, but another law for their parents, Bryce added.

Myers agreed, calling for a “path to citizenship” for parents.

“ICE is made up of a lot of thugs. It really is,” Myers said, adding that the agency needs to be a part of the Justice Department, like the FBI.

Myers several times took jabs at Bryce. Bryce responded but otherwise stayed away from infighting.

Myers said Bryce at one time supported police helping ICE do its job.

Bryce responded that his father is a retired cop and that he once said law enforcement should be given all the tools it needs.

People trying to cross the border are trying to better their lives and are not criminals, Bryce added.

Both candidates pledged not to take donations from the National Rifle Association or fossil fuel companies.

But Myers accused Bryce, who had pledged not to take money from corporate political action committees, of taking a donation from a PAC funded by General Dynamics, which has a subsidiary that took care of children who were separated from their parents at the border.

Bryce said he was not aware of any contribution from General Dynamics.

Myers accused Bryce of once supporting oil pipelines because of the jobs they bring.

Bryce didn’t seem to deny it. He said he would not feel comfortable working on an oil pipeline and opposes new pipelines.

Bryce said impeaching the president is “not off the table.”

Myers said she would vote to impeach. She said there are cases to be made that the president violated the Constitution by profiting from foreign deals while in office and likely obstruction of justice.

Both candidates endorsed working toward a clean-energy economy.

Myers and Bryce will face off in the Aug. 14 Democratic primary. The winner will take on the Republican Party primary victor and independent candidate Ken Yorgan.


Trump administration takes another swipe at 'Obamacare'

WASHINGTON

The Trump administration is freezing payments under an Obamacare program that protects insurers with sicker patients from financial losses, a move expected to add to premium increases next year.

At stake are billions in payments to insurers with sicker customers. The latest administration action could disrupt the Affordable Care Act, the health care law that has withstood President Donald Trump’s efforts to completely repeal it.

In a weekend announcement, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the administration is acting because of conflicting court ruling in lawsuits filed by some smaller insurers who question whether they are being fairly treated under the program.

The so-called “risk adjustment” program takes payments from insurers with healthier customers and redistributes that money to companies with sicker enrollees. Payments for 2017 are $10.4 billion. No taxpayer subsidies are involved.

The idea behind the program is to remove the financial incentive for insurers to “cherry pick” healthier customers. The government uses a similar approach with Medicare private insurance plans and the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Major insurer groups said Saturday the administration’s action interferes with a program that’s working well.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, whose members are a mainstay of Affordable Care Act coverage, said it was “extremely disappointed” with the administration’s action.

The Trump administration’s move “will significantly increase 2019 premiums for millions of individuals and small-business owners and could result in far fewer health plan choices,” association president Scott Serota said in a statement. “It will undermine Americans’ access to affordable coverage, particularly those who need medical care the most.”

Serota noted that the payments are required by law and said he believes the administration has the legal authority to continue making them despite the court cases. He warned of “turmoil” as insurers finalize their rates for 2019.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, the main health insurance industry trade group, said in a statement that it is “very discouraged” by the Trump administration’s decision to freeze payments.

“Costs for taxpayers will rise as the federal government spends more on premium subsidies,” the group said.

Rumors the Trump administration would freeze payments were circulating late last week. But the Saturday announcement via email was unusual for such a major step.

Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Seema Verma said the Trump administration was disappointed by a New Mexico court ruling that questioned the workings of the risk program for insurers.

The administration “has asked the court to reconsider its ruling, and hopes for a prompt resolution that allows (the government) to prevent more adverse impacts on Americans who receive their insurance in the individual and small group markets,” she said.

More than 10 million people buy individual health insurance plans through HealthCare.gov and state insurance marketplaces. The vast majority of those customers receives taxpayer subsidies under the Obama-era health law and would be shielded from premium increases next year.

The brunt of higher prices would fall on solid middle-class consumers who are not eligible for the income-based subsidies. Many of those are self-employed people and small-business owners, generally seen as a Republican constituency.

The latest ACA flare-up does not affect most people with employer coverage.

Unable to totally repeal the law, the White House and the Republican-led Congress have taken a series of steps that make it harder for the ACA to work as intended. Among them:

  • Repealing, effective next year, an unpopular requirement that most people carry health insurance, or risk fines. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that will raise premiums by about 10 percent.
  • Eliminating another set of payments to insurers, which covered discounts that the companies are required to provide low-income people on their copayments and deductibles.
  • Slashing the advertising budget for HealthCare.gov even as the sign-up window was shortened by half.
  • Clearing the way for low-cost insurance plans that cover less and may siphon healthier customers away from ACA plans.

Even so, enrollment under the health law has remained remarkably steady.


A 'Supreme' show: Trump savors big reveal for court choice

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, N.J.

A family separation crisis of his own making continues at the border. His Environmental Protection Agency chief just quit amid mounting scandals. And he’s about to meet with an adversary accused of meddling in the 2016 election.

But President Donald Trump has every confidence that the nation’s attention will be right where he wants it tonight.

After more than a week of pitched speculation, Trump will go on prime-time television to reveal his choice to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, selecting a conservative designed to rally Republican voters in a midterm election year. And with that, the optics-obsessed president will be in his comfort zone—taking center stage in a massive show.

Nearly 18 months after Trump set in motion Justice Neil Gorsuch’s nomination, the reality star-turned-president is more seasoned, more embittered and increasingly comfortable exerting his will over the machinery of government and his own staff. His upcoming “Supreme” show is the latest example of Trump’s push to remake the federal bench with young conservative judges, a crusade he believes will energize GOP voters concerned about the state of the judiciary.

Trump is largely following the same playbook this time as when he successfully rolled out Gorsuch’s nomination in January 2017. White House aides have strict instructions to keep information under wraps so Trump himself can make the big reveal. The president was gleeful when Gorsuch’s name didn’t leak out early.

“So was that a surprise?” Trump said, after announcing his decision.

Still, there are differences this time. In the last go-around, the White House relied heavily on outside consultants to push Gorsuch over the finish line. Despite a staff exodus that has left key vacancies across the West Wing, the White House this time is retaining more control over the nomination and confirmation processes. A war room of communications, legal and research staff has been assembled in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to promote and defend the nominee.

Trump has reveled in building up suspense in the days leading up to his speech, offering fragments of information here and there but strategically keeping the guessing game alive. Drawn from a public list of 25 candidates approved by conservative groups, the president’s top contenders include federal appeals court judges Brett Kavanaugh, Raymond Kethledge, Amy Coney Barrett and Thomas Hardiman. The White House has been preparing confirmation materials on all four.

Drawing out the suspense the day before his announcement, Trump told reporters in New Jersey on Sunday that he was “getting very close to making a decision.” He then said it would be “decided tonight or tomorrow.”

Past announcements of Supreme Court nominees were not made in prime time. President Barack Obama announced the selection of Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor from the White House during the day.

More than 33 million viewers watched Trump announce Gorsuch last year. The audience edged the 31.3 million who watched Obama’s final State of the Union address but was dwarfed by the 56.5 million who saw Obama announce the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, among the decade’s most-watched presidential speeches.

The theatrics surrounding Trump’s court selection should come as no surprise. His presidency is rife with made-for-TV moments. With Trump, a Cabinet meeting becomes a freewheeling speech to the nation, and a walk to Marine One turns into an impromptu news conference. He recently strode out the door of the White House to participate in a Fox News live broadcast from the driveway. And his Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was staged as a massive media event.

“Everything Trump does gets more sensational than with past presidents,” said Jeffrey McCaul, a communications professor at DePauw University. “I’m sure he’s hoping for a huge prime-time audience, and he’ll probably get it.”

Trump has also packed his administration with cable television veterans. National security adviser John Bolton is a former Fox contributor, and economic adviser Larry Kudlow is a former CNBC personality. Trump’s latest White House addition is former Fox News executive Bill Shine, the new deputy chief of staff for communications.

Theatrics aside, advisers stress that Trump’s judicial selection process has been serious. He interviewed six top prospects and has been reviewing his options with lawmakers and outside advisers. In addition, Vice President Mike Pence met in person with Kethledge, Barrett and Kavanaugh, said a person familiar with the process who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

In an administration light on policy achievements, the president often views media attention—and positive headlines—as a victory unto itself.

But Trump recognizes that the court pick offers both sizzle and substance, giving him the opportunity to tip the balance on the court toward conservatives for decades.

Douglas Brinkley, a history professor at Rice University, said the nomination has the added benefit of dominating the news, potentially overshadowing coverage of migrant children separated from their parents at the border.

Said Brinkley: “It’s been a tough summer until this gift that Kennedy gave him.”


Democrats’ long-shot plan to stop Trump’s Supreme Court nominee

WASHINGTON

Narrowly outnumbered in the Senate, Democrats are embarking on a Hail Mary campaign to block President Donald Trump’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court.

And they realize what a long shot it is.

“Let’s be clear: Democrats have no way to hold up this confirmation or delay the process. Mitch McConnell can and will hold a vote on Trump’s pick,” Indivisible—a liberal advocacy group launched after Trump’s election—said on its website.

Flipping a moderate Republican is probably their only hope. And that only works if they can keep Democrats who represent red states that Trump won from breaking ranks.

Before Trump’s expected announcement today, Democrats launched a three-pronged approach to defeating his nominee: Frame the process around women’s health and the future of legalized abortion, mobilize the kind of nationwide protests that helped kill Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and focus their attention on five key senators whose votes will determine whether Trump’s pick is confirmed.

Unlike the nomination of Neil M. Gorsuch last year to replace the reliably conservative Antonin Scalia, Trump’s newest nominee will replace Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who was a swing vote on many of the most divisive social issues, including the landmark abortion ruling Roe v. Wade.

That makes this confirmation “more consequential than Gorsuch,” said Jeb Barnes, a political science professor at the University of Southern California. “It’s not just who you appoint, but who you replace. We know everyone who is on Trump’s list is to the right of Kennedy, so it is going to edge the court right.”

Democrats are zeroing in on Trump’s repeated promises to only appoint justices who would overturn Roe.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the highest-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, has said that “the effect of this Supreme Court nomination on women’s rights can’t be understated.” In Twitter posts and essays, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer,D-N.Y., has echoed those concerns.

Democrats are pouncing on Trump’s use of a list of 25 potential candidates drafted by the conservative Federalist Society, which vetted all the names to ensure that they were committed to a conservative ideology.

“While these litmus-test-style commitments may have been politically sensible for Donald Trump at the time when he was running in the campaign in 2016, we believe they will come back to haunt his nominee in this summer’s confirmation battle,” said Brian Fallon, Hillary Clinton’s former press secretary, who now runs the liberal advocacy group Demand Justice.

Prominent activist groups like Demand Justice, Indivisible, MoveOn and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee are already planning a week of protests at home-state offices of senators across the country after Trump announces his nominee.

The groups are following the same grass-roots strategy that helped kill the Republican attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act last year.

Planned Parenthood’s activism arm has held events across the country to attract local news coverage.

And the groups are flooding the airwaves with ads, urging Americans to call their senators, hoping the outpouring will jam phone lines on Capitol Hill and sway senators.

“It is game time; this is not a drill,” says an ad from NARAL, an abortion-rights nonprofit.

With Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., receiving cancer treatment at home, Democrats have to persuade just one Republican to vote no to defeat Trump’s nominee, as long as they ensure that no Democrats vote yes.

Two Republican senators thought to be the most likely to flip, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, are the targets of television ads in their districts and in Washington, urging them to vote no. The two Republican women helped defeat the bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act last year, and both have reservations about how the potential nominees on Trump’s list might rule if Roe v. Wade is challenged.

Collins has said she wants assurance that any potential justice will treat the precedent in Roe v. Wade as settled law.

“A candidate for this important position who would overturn Roe v. Wade would not be acceptable to me, because that would indicate an activist agenda that I don’t want to see a judge have,” Collins said on ABC’s “This Week.” “What I want to see is a nominee who, regardless of his or her personal views on the very difficult and contentious life issue, is going to respect precedent.”

Murkowski, who also supports access to abortion, has been more circumspect in her public comments since Kennedy’s retirement, telling the Washington Post that Roe v. Wade’s future is a “significant factor” in her decision, but not the only one.

“And I don’t think it should be the only factor for anybody,” she said. “It’s not as if those are the only matters that come before the Supreme Court.”

Persuading a Republican to vote no won’t help if any of the three red-state Democrats who voted to confirm Gorsuch, Trump’s last pick for the court, vote with Republicans. All three face tough re-election fights in November in states Trump won by huge margins and can expect political blowback regardless of how they vote.

Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., oppose abortion rights. And Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., is a bit of a maverick who has been willing to vote with Republicans in the past.

If Democrats can keep the Supreme Court debate about the future of the Affordable Care Act, one of the few things that have united every Democratic member since Trump was elected, then Schumer could have a chance of keeping them together.

The president quickly framed the confirmation vote as a campaign issue, and painted Heitkamp as automatically following Democrats’ party line.

“Heidi will vote ‘no’ on any pick we make,” Trump said at a rally last month in her home state. “She’ll be told to.”

But then all three Democrats who voted to approve Gorsuch were courted by Trump at a White House meeting the next day. They have not said how they will vote.


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Obituaries and death notices for July 9, 2018

Harold Fredrick Abey Sr.

Lester William Amenda

Donald W. Lundeberg

Karen A. Miller

Lawrence S. Moody