News of the Day

President Trump Signs Off on Deal to Ease China Trade War

President Trump on Thursday approved a proposed U.S.-China trade deal, raising hopes for a possible truce in a 21-month commercial conflict that roiled financial markets, disrupted corporate supply chains and cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.

At a White House meeting with his top trade advisers, the president signed off on a swap of U.S. tariff reductions in return for China spending $50 billion on U.S. farm goods, tightening its intellectual property protections and opening its financial services markets, according to Michael Pillsbury, a China expert at the Hudson Institute, who says the president briefed him on the deal Thursday.

“It’s a breakthrough,” Pillsbury said. “He says it’s historic. I certainly agree with that.”

Plans for announcing the deal, including whether an official text will be made public, remain in flux. The administration has said it does not intend to seek congressional approval of the agreement.

“The deal is essentially done. The mechanics of how you execute it and how you get it signed still have to be worked out,” said one person briefed on the White House’s deliberations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak to the media.

Still, a so-called “phase one” agreement would leave the thorniest issues in the U.S.-China trade dispute to future negotiations, which are scheduled to begin next year. China’s massive subsidies for state enterprises and its practice of forcing foreign companies to surrender technology secrets in return for access to the Chinese market will be the subject of “phase two” of the talks.


GOP Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Legalize Medical Marijuana

Two Republican state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would legalize medical marijuana, saying it’s time for Wisconsin to join the majority of the country in giving patients the option.

But already, the state Senate’s top Republican said he doesn’t support the bill and leaders in both houses of the Legislature downplayed its chances of passing.

The proposal by state Rep. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, and state Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls could still add momentum to a cause that has mostly been championed in Wisconsin by Democrats, including Gov. Tony Evers. Their bill would regulate the “cultivation, processing, testing, and dispensing” of medical marijuana in Wisconsin, which could be prescribed by doctors, physicians assistants and certified advanced practice nurses.

“There is no doubt that each and every one of us knows someone that has suffered through an illness and struggled to find a way to make it through each day,” said the lawmakers in a statement. “It is clear that we as a state need to begin having a real discussion about medical marijuana legalization.”

But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, who has opposed other efforts to legalize medical marijuana, did so again Wednesday.

“I personally oppose this bill and I don’t believe there are the votes in our caucus to pass it,” Fitzgerald said in a brief written statement.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has been more open to supporting medical marijuana, but he also suggested this bill would not pass.

“As someone who supports a limited form of medical marijuana, I appreciate the efforts by Rep. Felzkowski to move the issue forward,” Vos said. “However, it’s clear that our caucus hasn’t reached a consensus.”


House Democrats and the White House Reach Deal on USMCA

House Democrats and the Trump administration have reached an agreement to move forward with the White House’s replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement, top Democrats said Tuesday.

The two sides had worked for more than a year to resolve Democratic concerns about enforcement tools for labor and environmental standards under the new deal, known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. House Democrats, President Donald Trump, top Senate Republicans and labor leaders all cited progress toward a deal this week.

The Trump administration needs to submit ratifying legislation to Congress for the House to move forward with approving the agreement. Once the White House submits text — it could do so in the coming days — a 90-day window to approve USMCA starts.

The House could vote to ratify the bill before the end of the year, when a likely impeachment trial in the Senate and the 2020 election will take up more of Washington’s attention. The White House and business groups have pushed for ratification in 2019 in part because the lack of an agreement adds to the uncertainty farmers and other businesses face from the administration’s trade conflicts around the globe.

The Senate will likely take up USMCA ratification after Trump’s impeachment trial in the chamber, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday. He said he does not expect the Senate to start the trial before next year.


Congress Rushes to Reach Spending Deal as Deadline Looms

Congressional negotiators are scrambling to reach a deal that would allow the House to vote on several spending bills this week, with just 11 days left to avert a shutdown, according to aides close to the talks.

Leaders of both parties are attempting to finish the long-stalled negotiations early this week, with a number of lingering policy items — including tricky immigration-related provisions — still under discussion.

Reaching a deal this week would be a major achievement for a Congress that has sent zero spending bills to the president’s desk, more than two months into the start of the fiscal year.

The House passed a majority of its bills earlier this year, while the Senate passed a package that includes one-third of the bills. But the two sides can’t agree on what version of those bills to send to Trump.

Both chambers are far behind on the appropriations process compared to last year, when the federal government was sent sputtering into a month-long shutdown because of disagreement over Trump’s border wall. Trump eventually agreed to end the standoff, but later circumvented Congress to secure billions of dollars for his border project anyways.

This year, the wall remains a sticking point, but Republican and Democratic leaders say they anticipate other immigration-related provisions, like the number of detention beds in the Department of Homeland Security, to be a bigger issue.

State Highway Commission won’t Advance New Major Projects

A long-dormant commission charged with planning major road construction opted not to advance any projects after a five-year hiatus that ended Friday.

The TPC typically advances projects from the planning stage to the state Legislature for enumeration. But the Legislature has the power to enumerate projects, too. Just one major highway project has moved forward without TPC approval, an expansion of Interstate 41 between Appleton and DePere that the Legislature approved in the latest biennial budget. WisDOT has yet to begin an environmental review of the project, agency officials said Friday.

The group moved to remove three major highway reconstructions from the planning phase. They include: a 15-mile expansion of U.S. Highway 14 from Janesville to I-43, the reconstruction of U.S. Highway 12 at the Fort Atkinson bypass and a rebuild of Highway 8 from Wisconsin Highway 35 to U.S. Highway 53.

Joe Nestler, administrator of WisDOT’s Division of Transportation Investment Management, said these projects likely would have been removed from the planning phase had TPC met in recent years.

“We had already put that ice internally knowing that wasn’t going to result in a recommendation,” Nestler said. “We would have done this sooner had we met.”

WisDOT, however, will continue to consider a number of other projects, and may consider them at future TPC meetings. Projects that remain in the majors program include an expansion of U.S. Highway 12 between Elkhorn and Whitewater, an overhaul of Interstate 94 between Madison and the Wisconsin Dells and an expansion of I-94 East-West in Milwaukee.

U.S. Spent $1 Trillion on Hospitals in 2018, Report Finds

The U.S. spent more than $1 trillion on hospitals in 2018, the largest percentage of all health spending, according to a new government analysis of health spending released Thursday.

The study from the nonpartisan actuaries at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) found $1.2 trillion, or 33 percent of health care spending in 2018, was on hospitals. Total health spending reached $3.6 trillion.

Retail prescription drug prices fell slightly last year for the first time in 40 years, but spending on retail drugs grew 2.5 percent, to $335 billion. That amounted to 9 percent of total health spending, the study found.

According to the study, health spending overall climbed 4.6 percent in 2018 to $3.6 trillion, accounting for nearly 18 percent of the U.S. economy. Health care expenditures amounted to $11,172 per person.

State Lawmakers Wants Wisconsin to Go Big for Small Business

Yesterday, State Representative Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa) and State Senator Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) introduced a bill to create an online portal for Wisconsinites to access information related to starting, maintaining, and growing a small business.

This website is aimed to be a “one-stop shop” for anyone in Wisconsin who has an interest in creating a new business, and for current business owners who want a more streamlined process with state agencies.

Rep. Vining released the following statement in regards to this legislation:

“As a small business owner, and from my conversations in the community about the difficulties small business owners face, I understand what it takes to start and run your own business from the ground up. Right now, the state has different resources to make it easier for business owners, but the information is spread out. This bill creates a one-stop shop for all the information a business owner needs.”

President Warns Trade Talks With China May Last Past 2020 Election

President Trump signaled on Tuesday that he was in no rush to end a long trade war with China, suggesting that he could wait until after the 2020 presidential election to strike a deal and sending stock prices tumbling.

“I have no deadline,” Mr. Trump told reporters during a wide-ranging 52-minute appearance in London with Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO Secretary General. “In some ways I like the idea of waiting until after the election for the China deal.”

He added: “But they want to make a deal now, and we’ll see whether or not the deal’s going to be right, it’s got to be right.”

The Trump administration insists that China must offer more concessions to protect intellectual property and open its markets to American companies, while China is demanding more relief from Mr. Trump’s tariffs in return for such concessions.

American and Chinese officials have remained fairly optimistic that a deal will be struck before the new tariffs take effect Dec. 15, but they say the final decision will fall to Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi.

Two Democrats, Two Republicans File for Candidacy in Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District

Wausau School Board President Tricia Zunker, a Democrat, was the first candidate to file papers with the state to officially add her name to the ballot.

Zunker submitted her papers Nov. 26 in Madison, according to the Wisconsin Election Commission website, along with 1,518 signatures from 7th District voters supporting her candidacy.

As of Monday evening, Republicans Jason Church and state Sen. Tom Tiffany had also submitted their nomination papers. Church submitted 1,620 signatures, while Tiffany submitted 1,982. Democrat Lawrence Dale also submitted nomination papers, along with 1,103 signatures.

Each candidate is required to submit between 1,000 and 2,000 signatures to the Wisconsin Election Commission to secure a spot on the ballot for the special election, by 5 p.m. Monday. Any challenges to nomination papers are due to the Elections Commission on Dec. 5.

The primary for the special election will be held on Feb. 18, coinciding with the local spring election primaries. The special election will be held on May 12.

The seat was vacated in September when Duffy resigned, saying he needed to spend more time with his wife, Rachel Campos-Duffy, and their newborn daughter, who has a heart defect and Down syndrome.

The 7th District covers most of the northern parts of Wisconsin, including all or some of 26 counties. The district is home to about 710,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and is the state’s largest congressional district geographically.

Wisconsin Seeing Fewer Traffic Deaths In 2019

The latest figures from the state Department of Transportation show the 495 fatalities as of Nov. 17. That’s down from 521 at the same point in 2018.

The number of fatal crashes is also down. There were 463 as of Nov. 17, down from 467 through the same period in 2018.

Michael Schwendau with the state Bureau of Transportation Safety said the declines appear to show more drivers are taking safety seriously on the roads.

Drive are “not being distracted with their cellphones driving, buckling up, finding that sober ride home, whether they’re using a ride-sharing service or calling a friend … everybody’s doing their part, so it’s really starting to have some measurable effects on saving lives,” Schwendau said.

Wisconsin is part of a national trend of fewer traffic deaths.

But Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, said the goal remains getting the total number of deaths on the roads to zero.