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GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Secret Service investigating a security breach at Target stores

Target confirmed this morning that up to 40-million of its customers could have had their debit-or-credit card information stolen in a security breach. Media reports said customers at nearly all U-S Target stores -- including about 40 in Wisconsin -- had their data stolen when they swiped their cards at checkout counters when completing their purchases. Target said it happened from day before Thanksgiving through last Sunday. The Minneapolis-based department store chain said it's working closely with law enforcement and financial institutions, and they've resolved the issue. The Secret Service confirms an investigation, but won't say any more. Target said customers can now use their cards with confidence, as more shoppers are expected to hit the stores with Christmas just six days away. The company told customers to monitor their card-and-bank statements for any signs of identity theft -- and to report suspicious activity to their card issuers and Target immediately. Former newspaper reporter Brian Krebs broke the story on his "Krebs on Security" blog. He tells the Saint Paul Pioneer Press there's no way of knowing if any of the stolen data has been fraudulently used yet. He says the data normally has to be sold to black market buyers first -- and it could be months before any of it is used, if ever. Target said the breach did not affect the company's online shopping site.


Wisconsin senators will meet at high noon today to consider a three-month delay before dropping tax-funded health insurance for almost 100-thousand people. The Senate will act on what the Assembly approved 15 days ago -- giving Badger-Care recipients above the poverty line until March 31st to sign-up for Obama-care before losing their state coverage. The same goes for 20-thousand people in the state's high-risk insurance pool that's about to be disbanded. Most minority Democrats oppose the delay. That's because it would make 83-thousand childless adults below the poverty line wait another three months to get their first Badger-Care coverage. Republicans blame the Obama-care sign-up difficulties online. The state's proposals will save taxpayers 23-million dollars. But Senate Democrat Julie Lassa of Stevens Point says the savings could have been 100-million, had Republican Governor Scott Walker not rejected Obama-care Medicaid funds. Lassa also claims the state could have created 10-thousand new jobs, which would have helped Walker keep his promise to create a quarter-million new jobs during his term. Walker has all but admitted he won't reach that goal anyway. He said he didn't take the Medicaid funds because the federal government could cut them off eventually, leaving the state with a huge expense it might not be able to afford. Democrats say they could have taken Medicaid money only for the three-month delay period -- but G-O-P Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said it didn't make sense to change a major fiscal policy for that short of a time.


Both of Wisconsin's U-S senators voted in favor of the two-year federal budget compromise that easily won final approval on Capitol Hill yesterday. The vote was 64-to-36 to send the package to President Obama. Wisconsin's Ron Johnson was one of just nine Republicans to vote yes, joining Democrat Tammy Baldwin. Obama called the budget quote, "a good first step away from the short-sighted, crisis-driven decision-making that has only served to act as a drag on our economy." House Budget chairman Paul Ryan of Janesville and his Senate counterpart Patty Murray hammered out the deal. It restores 45-billion-dollars in automatic federal spending cuts ordered last March in popular areas like defense. The reductions will be paid for with other spending cuts and fee increases. The package also includes 23-billion-dollars in deficit reductions over a 10-year period -- something the bill's opponents said may never happen. All 36 no votes came from Republicans. Johnson said he wished the automatic sequester cuts would have stayed in effect, but he said it's important to stop the threat of future government shutdowns. Baldwin said the deal is not perfect -- but it does protect investments in research, innovation, and education.


The State Democratic Party has deleted an assertion on its Web site that Governor Scott Walker was forced out of Marquette University when he went to school there. That was after the Journal Sentinel's PolitiFact investigated the claim, and found there was no truth to it. PolitiFact also found that Walker was not kicked out of Marquette's student elections, as Democrats had claimed. The Republican Walker allowed Marquette to release a letter stating that he left voluntarily in 1990, and he was in good standing as a student with no conduct issues. PolitiFact found that Walker went to Marquette from 1986-to-'90, and was 15-to-17-credits short of a degree when he left. He recently told reporters that he left school for a job with the Red Cross -- but he didn't say he was running for the state Assembly at the time. Democrats still contend Walker "master-minded" a scheme to destroy Marquette newspapers that were critical of him when he was running for the student presidency in 1988. PolitiFact discovered that Marquette investigated a large theft of school papers that endorsed Walker's opponent for student president. The opponent blamed Walker supporters. His campaign denied any role in it, and the school never announced the results of its investigation. 


Policy analysts say Wisconsin's slow job growth has been a thorn in the state's side for the entire 2000's -- and all the political spin and finger-pointing won't change that. Dale Knapp of the Wisconsin Taxpayers' Alliance says the increase in jobs under Republican Governor Scott Walker is the same pattern as the last four-year period without a recession -- 2004-through-'07 under Democrat Jim Doyle. Marquette analyst Charles Franklin says the annual job increase in the 2000's has been limited to 35-thousand, no matter which party's in control in Madison. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said you should blame Wisconsin's aging factory base -- a relative lack of entrepreneurs and venture capital for new high-tech firms -- and fewer college-educated residents than other states. Yesterday, the U-S Bureau of Labor Statistics said Wisconsin created almost 24-thousand new jobs during the year ending in June. The increase was one-percent, the 37th slowest job growth among the 50 states. Democrats said the numbers cry out for a change in policies and leadership in next year's elections. Walker also tried to make the numbers look better to potential G-O-P voters. He said Wisconsin ranked 25th in the actual jobs created, without regard to each state's population. Wisconsin ranks 20th in population, so the G-O-P's spin still had the Badger State falling short.


A legislative panel will decide today whether 24-hundred unionized state employees should get one-percent pay raises. The Joint Committee on Employment Relations will be asked to endorse raises for five smaller state unions that represent attorneys, education professionals, economists, nurses, and research analysts. If the committee votes yes, the full Assembly and Senate would still have to ratify the new contracts. The raises would be retroactive to the start of the state's new fiscal year July first. Non-union workers -- the vast majority of the state government's workforce -- were given one-percent raises this summer. Critics accuse lawmakers of dragging their feet on the unions' contract approvals.