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Shutdown on the mind of new 1st Congressional District rep

Rep. Bryan Steil said ending the government shutdown was at the top of his mind as he took office Thursday.

The Janesville Republican spoke by phone with The Gazette hours before he officially replaced Rep. Paul Ryan as the 1st Congressional District’s representative.

“I am firmly committed: We need to reopen the government,” Steil said, but he added that will happen when President Donald Trump and the Senate resolve their “logjam” over the question of a border wall.

Steil said he hadn’t received any complaints about the shutdown, “but I have no doubt it is having very serious impacts on a large number of people.”

Steil said now that he is able to receive complaints through official channels, he expects to hear plenty about the shutdown from constituents.

“I share their frustration,” he added.

Steil said he expects a compromise between Democrats and Republicans will be needed to resolve the impasse.

When asked about a possible compromise involving the so-called Dreamers, he said: “My view is, we need a kind of big-picture immigration reform. The immigration system is broken. I think almost everybody agrees with that. I think Step 1 is securing the border,” followed by “addressing the groups that are here (illegally).”

“One of the most deserving groups is the Dreamers,” who are in the United States because they were brought here as children through no fault of their own, Steil said.

“But Step 1 is border security,” he said. He defined border security as improving current border-security measures, which he said are inadequate.

Steil said he backs a change in the system of approving budgets so that if Congress doesn’t pass one, the federal government would continue to function with no increase in funding. Now, failure to pass a budget means a partial shutdown.

Steil’s proposal would prevent politicians from using the threat of a shutdown to achieve policy changes, Steil said, forcing opponents to come to the table to get things done.

Steil also addressed these subjects:

  • District offices: He is in the process of finalizing office locations across the district. The Janesville office will be in the same place as Ryan’s office, in the Olde Towne Mall, 20 S. Main St.
  • His living situation: He won’t be sleeping in his office, as Ryan had done.

“I’m going to rent a little, tiny place to hang my hat while I’m here. I still live in Janesville, in my home out behind Home Depot, and will continue to live in and call Janesville my home.”

He said he would be in the 1st District when he’s not needed in Washington.

  • Appointing staff: He has focused on this over the past two months.

In-district staff members include Andrew Iverson of Janesville, who was Steil’s communications director in the campaign, Tricia Stoneking of Janesville, who was director of scheduling and office operations for the House, and Rebekah Cullum of Janesville.

James Langnes of Elkhorn, who was deputy communications director for the Steil campaign, will join Steil’s staff in Washington.

  • Preparations: Steil said he attended a two-week, bipartisan orientation for new House members. He planned this weekend to attend another bipartisan seminar, which addresses policy in a nonpartisan way, put on by the Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service.

Steil said he is looking forward to conversations with his new colleagues.

The House freshman class comprises more than 90 members, roughly 60 Democrats and 30 Republicans, Steil said, adding that it’s good to bring fresh ideas, backgrounds and experiences to issues facing the nation.

  • Caucuses: Steil said he has not joined any of the policy-oriented groupings in the House, but he likely will.
  • Office space: Steil has a fourth-floor office in the Longworth House Office Building, about a five-minute walk to the House floor.

Steil and his staff are “tucked in tight” in the three-room office at 1408 Longworth, but it has natural light and should help him be effective in getting things done, he said.

In an official statement issued after the 116th Congress was sworn in, Steil said, in part:

“The American people are frustrated with the dysfunction in Washington, but I am committed to cutting through the noise to focus on the issues. I stand ready to work with every member of the House to find solutions that ensure families, students, and workers have affordable health care, good-paying jobs, and access to quality and affordable education. I look forward to getting to work on behalf of the people of Southeast Wisconsin.”

Rock County feeling few effects from U.S. government shutdown—so far


As the partial federal government shutdown turns 2 weeks old, locals say there has been little effect on Rock County and the surrounding area—but they warn more problems could arise if Congress and President Donald Trump don’t come to an agreement by the end of January.

Federal programs began shutting down at midnight Dec. 21 after Congress failed to pass funding for a host of departments and agencies, including the Internal Service Revenue, parts of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and national parks and museums. Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare; the U.S. Postal Service; and the military remain operational.

The shutdown came after Trump demanded funding to build a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. It is expected to continue indefinitely as Trump and the GOP remain at odds with Democrats who just took majority control of the House of Representatives.

Jim Bartlett, franchise owner at Liberty Tax Service in Janesville, said the IRS is operating with the “absolute minimum requirements,” and people likely won’t be able to contact IRS representatives while the closure persists. He said the IRS does not usually begin processing tax returns until the third week in January, leaving a little time before the shutdown begins affecting that process.

But if the shutdown lingers, “people will notice” if the IRS remains mostly closed through the end of the month, Bartlett said.

Dennis James, chapter coordinator for Rock County’s Ice Age Trail Alliance group, said volunteers are barred from maintaining and working on the scenic national trail during the shutdown. Volunteers are insured through the mostly shuttered U.S. National Park Service, and any claims would not be processed until funding is restored.

The trail is still open to the public, however, and James said the group isn’t prohibited from holding regular meetings. He said January is typically a slow month for trail maintenance, such as clearing fallen trees, mowing and eliminating invasive plants along the trail.

James said the group’s Candlelight Hike at the Storrs Lake Wildlife Area later this month is still scheduled but will be hosted by the Friends of Rock County Parks instead of the alliance.

Local farmers might also feel the effects of the shutdown after the Farm Service Agency, an arm of the Department of Agriculture, closed Dec. 28. The agency is responsible for various insurance programs, regulation and federal payments to farmers, including administering $4.7 billion in aid following the retaliatory tariffs China imposed on American crops.

Doug Rebout, president of the Wisconsin Corn Growers association and a Rock County resident, said the agency is a “busy office” but that it’s a slow time of year for farmers and the agency. Most local farmers already received payments from the agency for tariff aid and are largely unaffected right now, he said.

Rock County Administrator Josh Smith said the shutdown has “little to no effect” on county programs in the short-term. But most people interviewed expressed concerns about a prolonged shutdown, saying negative effects could build over time.

Pelosi sees 'new dawn' for 116th Congress


Cheering Democrats returned Nancy Pelosi to the House speaker’s post Thursday as the 116th Congress ushered in a historically diverse freshman class eager to confront President Donald Trump in a new era of divided government.

Pelosi, elected speaker 220-192, took the gavel saying U.S. voters “demanded a new dawn” in the November election that swept the Democrats to a House majority and are looking to “the beauty of our Constitution” to provide checks and balances on power. She faced 15 dissenting votes from fellow Democrats.

For a few hours, the promise of a new era was the order of the day. The new speaker invited scores of lawmakers’ kids to join her on the dais as she was sworn in, calling the House to order “on behalf of all of America’s children.”

Even Trump congratulated her during a rare appearance at the White House briefing room, saying her election by House colleagues was “a tremendous, tremendous achievement.” The president has tangled often with Pelosi and is sure to do so again with Democrats controlling the House, but he said, “I think it’ll be a little bit different than a lot of people are thinking.”

As night fell, the House quickly got to work on the partial government shutdown, which was winding up Day 13 with Trump demanding billions in Mexican border wall funding to bring it to an end. Before midnight on Congress’ first day, Democrats planned to approve legislation to re-open the government—but without the $5.6 billion in wall money, which means it has no chance in the Republican Senate.

The new Congress is like no other. There are more women than ever before, and a new generation of Muslims, Latinos, Native Americans and African-Americans is creating a House more representative of the population of the United States. However, the Republican side in the House is still made up mostly of white men, and in the Senate Republicans bolstered their ranks in the majority.

In a nod to the moment, Pelosi, the first female speaker who reclaimed the post she lost to the GOP in 2011, broadly pledged to make Congress work for all Americans—addressing kitchen table issues at a time of deep economic churn—even as her party readies to challenge Trump with investigations and subpoena powers that threaten the White House agenda.

Pelosi promised to “restore integrity to government” and outlined an agenda “to lower health costs and prescription drug prices and protect people with pre-existing medical conditions (and) to increase paychecks by rebuilding America with green and modern infrastructure from sea to shining sea.”

The day unfolded as one of both celebration and impatience. Newly elected lawmakers arrived, often with friends and families in tow, to take the oath of office and pose for ceremonial photos. Then they swiftly turned to the shutdown.

Vice President Mike Pence swore in newly elected senators, but Senate Republicans under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had no plans to consider the House bills unless Trump agreed to sign them into law. That ensured the shutdown would continue, clouding the first days of the new session.

McConnell said Republicans have shown the Senate is “fertile soil for big, bipartisan accomplishments,” but that the question is whether House Democrats will engage in “good governance or political performance art.”

It’s a time of stark national political division that some analysts say is on par with the Civil War era. Battle lines are drawn not just between Democrats and Republicans but within the parties themselves, splintered by their left and right flanks.

Pelosi defied history in returning to the speaker’s office after eight years in the minority, overcoming internal opposition from Democrats demanding a new generation of leaders. She will be the first to regain the gavel since Sam Rayburn of Texas in 1955.

Putting Pelosi’s name forward for nomination, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the incoming Democratic caucus chair, recounted her previous accomplishments—passing the Affordable Care Act, helping the country out of the Great Recession—as preludes to her next ones. He called her leadership “unparalleled in modern American history.”

One Democrat, Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Michigan, cast her vote for Pelosi “on the shoulders of women who marched 100 years ago” for women’s suffrage. Newly elected Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia, an anti-gun violence advocate, dedicated hers to her slain teenage son, Jordan Davis.

As speaker, Pelosi will face challenges from the party’s robust wing of liberal newcomers, including 29-year-old New Yorker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has risen to such prominence she is already known around the Capitol—and on her prolific social media accounts—by the nickname “AOC.” California Rep. Brad Sherman introduced articles of impeachment against Trump, though for now the measures are largely symbolic.

Republicans face their own internal battles as they decide how closely to tie their political fortunes to Trump. House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy’s name was put into nomination for speaker by his party’s caucus chair, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the daughter of the former vice president. He faced six “no” votes from his now-shrunken GOP minority.

As McCarthy passed the gavel to Pelosi he said voters wonder if Congress is “still capable” of solving problems, and said this period of divided government is “no excuse for gridlock.”

One seat remains disputed as the House refused to swear in Republican Mark Harris of North Carolina amid an investigation by state election officials of irregularities in absentee ballots from the November election.

Many GOP senators are up for re-election in 2020 in states where voters have mixed views of Trump’s performance in the White House.

Trump, whose own bid for 2020 already is underway, faces potential challenges from the ranks of Senate Democrats under Chuck Schumer.

The halls of the Capitol were bustling with arrivals, children in the arms of many new lawmakers. Visitor galleries included crooner Tony Bennett and rock legend Mickey Hart, both guests of Pelosi. Incoming White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, a former congressman, sat with Republican leaders.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., opened the House prayer asking at “a time fraught with tribalism at home and turbulence abroad” that lawmakers “become the architects of a kindlier nation.”

Overnight, Democratic Rep-elect Ilhan Omar of Minnesota tweeted a picture with her family at the airport. The House rules were being changed to allow Omar, who is Muslim, to wear a head scarf on the chamber floor. She wrote, “23 years ago, from a refugee camp in Kenya, my father and I arrived at an airport in Washington DC. Today, we return to that same airport on the eve of my swearing in as the first Somali-American in Congress.”

Obituaries and death notices for Jan. 4, 2019

Marilyn J. Bitter

Michael S. Ostrander

Donald Roy Thurnau

Angela Major 

Parker's Ryann Porter (20), center, fights with Madison West's Dana Zidani (30), right, for a rebound Thursday, January 3, 2019, at Parker High School in Janesville.

With slump in iPhone sales, are we post Peak Smartphone?


Behind Apple’s disconcerting news of weak iPhone sales lies a more sobering truth: The tech industry has hit Peak Smartphone, a tipping point when everyone who can afford one already owns one and no breakthroughs are compelling them to upgrade as frequently as they once did.

Some manufacturers have boosted prices to keep up profit. But Apple’s shortfall highlights the limits of that strategy. The company said demand for iPhones is waning and revenue for the last quarter of 2018 will fall well below projections, a decrease traced mainly to China.

Apple’s shares dropped 10 percent Thursday on the news—its worst loss since 2013. The company shed $74.6 billion in market value amid a broader sell-off among technology companies, which suffered their worst loss in seven years.

Apple’s news is a “wake-up call for the industry,” analyst Dan Ives of research firm Wedbush Securities said.

And it’s not just Apple. Demand has been lackluster across the board, he said. Samsung, long the leading seller of smartphones, has been hit even harder; its phone shipments dropped 8 percent during the 12 months ending in September.

“The smartphone industry is going through significant headwinds,” Ives said. “Smartphone makers used to be like teenagers, and the industry was on fire. Now it feels like they’re more like senior citizens in terms of maturity.”

Tech innovations in phones grew in leaps and bounds earlier in the 2010s, with dramatic improvements in screen size, screen resolution, battery life, cameras and processor speed every year.

But the industry is a victim of its own success. Innovation began to slow down around 2014, once Apple boosted the screen size with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models. While phones kept improving, new features tended to be incremental, such as a new flash technique to already excellent phone cameras. It’s the stuff consumers won’t typically notice—or want to shell out for.

“Since the iPhone 6 you’ve seen it has been tough to innovate to continue to raise the bar,” Ives said.

Apple customers now upgrade every 33 months on average, longer than the 24 or 25 months three years ago, he said.

Apple’s diminished growth projections, fueled by plummeting sales in China, have reinforced fears the world’s second-largest economy is losing steam. Its $1,000 iPhone is a tough sell to Chinese consumers unnerved by an economic slump and the trade war with the U.S. They also have a slew of cheaper smartphones from homegrown competitors such as Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo to choose from.

The fact that even Apple’s iPhone juggernaut is suffering cements a larger trend for all major smartphone makers. After a steady rise for a decade, worldwide smartphone shipments fell 3 percent to 1.42 billion in 2018, the first annual drop, according to International Data Corp., which tracks such movements. IDC estimates that shipments will rebound 3 percent in 2019 to 1.46 billion, but that still falls short of 2017 levels.

It doesn’t help that top phones come with four-digit price tags—$1,100 for the iPhone XS Max and $1,000 for Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9. The top-end Max model sells for $1,450 in the U.S.

“They’re getting more and more expensive while offering fewer and fewer new, innovative features that I’ll actually use,” said Zachary Pardes, a tech-savvy 31-year-old in Fairfield, Connecticut. “I’ll upgrade when the battery stops working. When I’m forced to buy a new phone, I’ll buy a new phone.”

Vivian Yang, a manager at a Beijing technology company, also balked at the price. “Nobody needs such a phone,” she said.

IDC analyst Ramon Llamas said the cycle might bottom out and start growing again in 2021 or 2022, when people’s current phones start reaching the end of their useful life.

“People will still replace their phones. It’s going to happen eventually,” he said.

But there’s no “silver bullet” that will spur growth to levels seen in the past when the industry was less mature.

Foldable smartphones, with screens that unfold like a wallet to increase display size, are one thing that could spur excitement, but they’re expensive and not due out until at least the end of the year.

Another thing that might spur growth: 5G, the next-generation mobile network that telecom companies are currently in the process of building, expected to be faster and more reliable than the current 4G network. The first 5G compatible phones are due out this year.

“There’s more pressure on 5G as the next-wave smartphone” because sales are so lackluster, Ives said. “There will be a battle royale for 5G phones.”

But 5G will take years for broad, nationwide deployment, so the new 5G smartphones coming out this year are not likely to make much of a splash immediately, either.

Analysts say smartphone makers need to push into under-saturated areas like Africa and elsewhere and sell more services such as cloud storage, streaming music and phone software. But the glory days of untrammeled growth appear to be over.

“It’s going to be a slow slog,” Llamas said. “By no means is this the end of the smartphone market. But this is an indication that the smartphone market can be a victim of its own success.”