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Capital City Sunday: GOP pans Biden plans, Johnson continues to question public health guidance

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Congressional Republicans, including Wisconsin's delegation, were cool to President Biden's sweeping proposals to fund jobs programs and make education more attainable.

Biden's two most recent plans on jobs and family programs come at a cost of more than $4 trillion. They would invest federal money in infrastructure projects that would also emphasize a transition to clean energy.

The White House's American Families Plan would fund universal pre-K for all three and four-year-olds, cover the tuition costs for two years of community or technical college education, and eventually allow up to 12 weeks of paid parental or family leave. The proposal would also seek to address the increasingly unmanageable costs of child care.

Republicans in Congress, including Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Janesville), have dismissed the plan as unfocused, partisan, and too expensive.

Steil said he believed issues around child care funding, tuition coverage, and pre-K expansion should be made at the state level.

"I think we're best served when we're addressing it locally; when we get the federal government in a one-size-fits-all approach, I think that's more of a challenge," Steil said. "If we look at our tech school system here in the state of Wisconsin, it's reasonably well-tailored to our workforce needs in the state."

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) said the pandemic has illustrated the economic impact of what happens when families lose the ability to send their kids to school or daycare -- and how it's an issue of national importance.

"Many, and disproportionately women, needed to leave the workforce because of the responsibilities if child care and early childhood education wasn't available," Baldwin said.

Biden's plan is funding by proposals to raise the income tax rate to 39.6% on the highest-income bracket, which is the level at which the wealthiest earners were taxed prior to the 2017 GOP tax cuts and throughout most of the 1990s.

The plan also called for raising the capital gains tax to 39.6% on households earning more than $1 million. Steil said he was skeptical the tax increases, if enacted, would remain confined to the richest Americans.

"I think it's a bait-and-switch as to who is the high-income earners that are gonna be paying for this," Steil said. "I think it's high-income earners today, I think the Biden Administration is gonna be coming after everybody very soon."

Johnson again defies public health guidance

For the second time in less than two seeks, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) openly questioned widely-accepted research and guidance around COVID-19 mitigation measures.

First, Johnson said he was getting "highly suspicious" of governmental efforts to get all adults vaccinated.

Experts have been clear for weeks the reason is to minimize the risk of any kind of spread, which in turn, minimizes the risk of mutations leading to variant strains that could be more resistant to the vaccine.

Johnson then questioned whether masks actually prevent the spread of the virus during a virtual town hall on Monday.

"As more evidence comes in, it's becoming harder and harder to support that masks actually work," Johnson told a constituent. "If they would've worked, we probably wouldn't have had as many infections, as many deaths as we did."

Johnson's office told WKOW this week Johnson's schedule was too tight to accommodate an appearance on the show.

Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Ben Wikler said the remarks at urgency to the party's effort to take his Senate seat in 2022.

"I think it would send a really powerful message that I'd be very satisfied with the voters of Wisconsin sending," Wikler said. "For Johnson to decide to run and for him to be roundly defeated."

Wikler would not directly answer whether the state party preferred to run against Johnson or a non-incumbent candidate in 2022. While Johnson initially pledged in 2016 to not seek a third term, he now says he's yet to decide whether he'll run again.

"I would prefer in Ron Johnson resigned," Wikler said. "I think he's a menace to public health and he's ill-serving the people of Wisconsin."

When asked about Johnson's vaccine remarks, Steil avoided any mention of his fellow Republican.

"I received my vaccine, I think it's the right thing to do," Steil said. "I've spoke with my physician, I think people should make the decision that's right for them."

Johnson's week of headlines continued with a Washington Post report the FBI had warned the senator he was a Russian target to spread disinformation ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

Johnson told the paper he did get such a briefing but the agency did not respond to his request for specifics, rendering the warning "useless" in his mind.

Statewide Priest Abuse Investigation

On Tuesday, Attorney General Josh Kaul (D-WI) announced the state Department of Justice was launching a review of child sex abuse allegations against members of the clergy and other faith leaders.

Kaul said his agency would take after the more than 20 other states to take up investigations into the now decades-long Catholic Church scandal.

"We had the opportunity to examine what other states have done and to learn from the experiences that they've had," Kaul said. "And so what we have done is ultimately put the resources we believe we need in place."

The investigation included the launch of a website where people can report tips about abuse that happened to them or someone they know. Kaul confirmed some information has come in since the site's launch but did not disclose any more than that.

"We've received contacts," Kaul said. "I don't want to go into detail at this point but what I can say is we want to encourage anybody around the state who has information about clergy and faith leader abuse to report."

Kaul met with diocese leaders on Monday. Some diocese leaders have taken a wait-and-see approach to whether they will turn over documents from internal investigations should the DOJ request them. Kaul would not say whether he would consider taking a diocese to court if it refused to hand over any papers.

"I'm not going to go into detail on our investigative strategy," Kaul said.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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