Green Bay Press Gazette, Dec. 17
Budget deal a step forward for divided Congress
Rather than holding out and refusing any compromise, Congress appears ready to settle, at least when it comes to the federal budget.
Rather than wade into the turbulent waters of another government shutdown, Congress appears on the verge of approving a spending plan that can be measured in years and not months
The House last week passed a bipartisan spending plan authored by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. The Senate voted 67-33 to advance the deal past the filibuster threshold. It appears to have more than enough votes for approval. President Barack Obama has said he will sign the deal.
Judging by the reactions from Washington, the agreement was neither embraced nor rejected. Instead, lawmakers accepted for what it is — a small step that lends some certainty to the funding of government operations.
Both Wisconsin senators said that despite some misgivings about the deal, they will vote for it. Their reactions to the bill were similar to those of many lawmakers in Congress.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said of the budget deal, "on balance the good outweighs the bad." Sen. Tammy Baldwin, R-Madison, said, "It's certainly not perfect but it is progress."
U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Sherwood, voted for it in the House, saying, "Our nation's businesses, families and our own government can finally plan for the future knowing what Washington is going to do."
Nobody likes the whole thing, but it's better than nothing.
We'll take it a step farther — it's much better than nothing. It doesn't even come close to that low standard.
What it does, first of all, is set a spending plan through October 2015 — almost two years from now. That's no small feat given that the federal government has been operating on continuing resolution after continuing resolution for years.
That's no way to conduct business. It wouldn't be tolerated in any company, and it shouldn't be tolerated in the nation's capital.
Budget deals that expire after several months and then require another round of negotiations hurt government agencies because there's no certainty. It's difficult to implement and run some programs not knowing if funds will be available in several months when the short-term budget deal ends.
Second, it represents compromise, something that has been in short supply in this Congress. Reaching bipartisan agreement on a bill that neither side fully embraces has been unheard of.
Also, it shows the lawmakers' distaste for a government shutdown may match their constituents'.
The details of the budget offer a mixed bag for both sides of the aisle. It would ease some of the across-the-board cuts due to sequestration, it calls for some fee increases, but it would not extend federal unemployment benefits, which would affect 24,000 Wisconsinites who would be cut off from long-term jobless benefits on Dec. 28. It would increase the deficit slightly over the next two years before cutting it by $23 billion over 10 years.
There is probably just as much to like in the bill as there is not to like in the budget, but the agreement marks a step forward, after years of moving backward.
We'll take that tiny bit of progress and hope to build on that.
La Crosse Tribune, Dec. 15
Don't conduct tax talks in private
We have long maintained that comprehensive tax reform is overdue in Wisconsin. Our state relies too heavily on property taxes to fund education and needs a more progressive and balanced revenue system that relies on income, property, sales and excise taxes.
So we applaud efforts underway by Gov. Scott Walker's administration to start the discussion and gather information that's a necessary part of what would be a long and challenging journey.
That began last week when Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and state Revenue Department Secretary Rick Chandler hosted a roundtable in Beloit with area business leaders. But the promising beginning immediately turned dark when a reporter for the Beloit Daily News was not allowed to attend until later in the meeting.
Kleefisch, a former TV reporter, said this has been and will be her policy with such meetings.
"People aren't as candid when there are cameras and reporters in the room," Kleefisch told the Beloit Daily News.
The same format will be used in upcoming meetings in Superior and Eau Claire, Kleefisch's staff said.
There is nothing wrong with Kleefisch wanting to get input of business leaders on something as important as tax reform. But do that in private settings with specific invitations to business leaders. Don't announce these as public events. Otherwise they should be open to anyone from the public, even if attendees are wielding a camera or a notebook instead of a campaign donation.
Closed meetings are simply poor public policy. If the meetings aren't open to anyone, how do we know that topic of discussion is only tax reform? Is there a special tax reform being considered for special people while the rest of us wait for the crumbs?
Walker, in a press release announcing the roundtables, said: "This is an outstanding opportunity for the hardworking taxpayers to voice their opinions and offer suggestions on Wisconsin's tax climate." He said the roundtables would "start the conversation with the people of our state about their priorities for future tax reform."
So are other members of the public — and the press — not hardworking taxpayers who can voice opinions and offer suggestions?
Walker has suggested there will be plenty of opportunities for public input. We certainly hope so. True tax reform deserves feedback and input from all
Wisconsin citizens because while we may not all contribute to political candidates or align ourselves with political parties, we all pay taxes.
The Journal Times of Racine, Dec. 18
Cellphone ban shouldn't be cleared for takeoff
The Federal Communications Commission proposal to end the ban on in-flight cellphone use on airplanes has triggered the usual "the sky is falling" response from some congressional representatives who are now racing to their bill-making machines to avert the catastrophe.
The FCC is proposing the end of the 22-year-old ban for a simple reason: Technology has improved and cellphones pose no threat to aviation equipment.
As FCC chairman Tom Wheeler put it, "When the rationale for the rule doesn't exist, the rule shouldn't exist."
The FCC's 3-2 vote to look at ending the ban immediately triggered opposition. The Department of Transportation said it would consider a ban on in-flight calls; the nation's largest flight attendant union warned the change could lead to fights between passengers and — wonder of wonders — Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and Democrat Dianne Feinstein bridged the partisan aisle to propose a "Commercial Flight Courtesy Act" that would ban voice-conversations in-flight but allow texting and email.
"When you stop and think about what we hear now in airport lobbies — babbling about last night's love life, next week's schedule, arguments with spouses — it's not hard to see why the FCC shouldn't allow cellphone conversations on airplanes," Alexander intoned.
Nothing like using the hammer of a federal law to kill a gnat.
When Alexander and Feinstein get done policing conversation, perhaps they will move on to ban more pressing in-flight annoyances. What about that squalling youngsters up by the bulkhead? And who actually has a right to the armrest?
Maybe the first question Alexander and Feinstein should ask is: Do we really need another law? It might be instructive for them to look at airlines in the Middle East where most allow voice calls, or Europe and Asia where some airlines permit it. Despite the warnings of "air rage" between passengers if voice calls are allowed, the experience of those foreign airlines indicates that does not happen.
The Telecommunication Industry Association said that in countries that allow phone use, calls typically last one or two minutes and only a handful of people make them at the same time. Many of the calls involve checking voicemail with no speaking by the passenger, the association said.
That's not exactly a crisis that needs a federal law to cure it. Congress and the DOT should let airlines handle the voice-call situation as they see fit.