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Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl Will Not Seek Re-election

May 16, 2011

Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) announced on Friday that he will not seek re-election to the U.S. Senate seat he has held since 1989. He becomes the ninth sitting senator and sixth Democrat to announce his retirement during this election cycle. The current political make-up of the Senate includes 51 Democrats, 47 Republicans and 2 Independents.

"The greatest honor and the greatest responsibility of my life have been to serve as Wisconsin's United States Senator," Kohl said during a news conference following his announcement. "But I have never believed this was my Senate seat. I always knew and understood that it belongs to the people of Wisconsin. At the end of this term, I will have served in this office for 24 years. So even though I continue to love this job, I have decided that the time has come to give someone else the opportunity to serve."

Almost immediately, insiders began to speculate on potential successors to Kohl. Most notable are current Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and former Senator Russ Feingold, who was defeated in the 2010 mid-term elections by Wisconsin businessman Ron Johnson. Although there was no immediate comment from Feingold, Ryan said he wanted "to take some time over the next few days to discuss this news with my family and supporters before making any decisions about how I'm best able to serve my employers in the First Congressional District, our state and nation."

Other potential candidates are Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen; Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-WI); Tom Barrett, a 2004 candidate for the Governorship; and Representative Ron Kind (D-WI). In response to the announcement, a spokesperson for Kind said, he had no comment on Kind's plans for the future.

Kohl, who owns the National Basketball Association's Milwaukee Bucks and bought the team to keep it in the city, has been a popular politician in his home state. He served as subcommittee chairman on the Appropriations Committee, as well as other high-profile roles on the Judiciary Committee, which vets Supreme Court nominees.
Recent polling in Wisconsin suggests Democrats have a high likelihood of holding Kohl's seat. This is particularly important because there are more sitting or retiring Democrats up for re-election than Republicans.

Ryan's emergence as a national political figure as chair of the House Budget Committee could complicate the equation, if he decides to run. The outcome of the debt-ceiling and budget debate will go a long way in determining whether Ryan can be viable as a statewide candidate in Wisconsin. As with most things in Washington, only time will tell.

Report Says Medicare Bankrupt in 2024, Social Security in 2036

The worst economy since the Great Depression is taking a serious toll on Medicare and Social Security by draining the trust funds at a faster pace than expected, according to a report released last Friday by the Medicare trustees. While many structural reasons exist for the shortfall in both programs, trustees pointed to two significant issues: the first wave of baby-boomers is reaching retirement and Medicare payroll tax receipts are weaker due to high unemployment.

The report anticipates that the Medicare hospital insurance fund will run out of cash in 2024, not 2029 as predicted last year, and Social Security will be drained of resources in 2036, one year earlier than previously expected.

"There can no longer be any doubt or denial: Our nation's Medicare and Social Security programs are unsustainable and will run out of money sooner than expected," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

The report sets the stage for significant debate over the coming weeks regarding increasing the nation's debt limit upwards of $14.3 trillion. Using a number of different avenues, Congressional leaders and the White House have been negotiating potential alterations to the Medicare program as part of a broader initiative to increase the nation's statutory ability to borrow. Economic experts predict the country wil hit the debt ceiling on August 2, 2011. The negotiations, however, have not included changes to Social Security; Congress wants to focus soley on Medicare.

The report also said that the longer Congress delays in addressing Medicare's the funding shortfall, the more likely it will be that legislators will have to increase in taxes and make significant benefit cuts to save the program. "The financial shortfalls confronting both Social Security and Medicare are substantial and - absent legislation to correct them - quite certain," wrote Charles P. Blahous III and Robert D. Reischauer, two of the trustees.

Making things more difficult for lawmakers, however, is a recent Quinnipiac poll that showed 60 percent of voters believe Medicare should be left alone. One thing is clear - Congress and the nation can no longer afford to kick the can down the road.

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