Questions with Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI)
Heritage Action: Why are you running for a leadership position? How would you advance conservative principles if elected to that position? And more broadly, what is your vision for the country?
Sen. Johnson: I spent 31 years building a successful manufacturing business and raising my family in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I had no ambitions to seek elective office, and until I ran for Senate in 2010, had never even been to Washington, D.C. As our founders envisioned, I am a citizen legislator with a background in accounting and a lifetime of experience operating within the private sector. I understand budgeting, how the private sector really works, and how jobs and general prosperity are created. I have a real world understanding of how government regulatory, and tax and spending policies, impact small to medium sized businesses and the greater economy. I am running for Conference Vice Chair because I believe it would be helpful to have that experience and perspective at the leadership table.
I share the vision of our founding fathers of limited government operating within the constraints of our marvelous Constitution. One hundred years ago, the federal government spent 2% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Last year, we spent 24% of GDP, and we are on a trajectory to spend far more. Our $15 trillion debt has reached 100% of GDP, it costs $1.75 trillion per year to comply with federal regulations, 62% of the federal budget is on automatic pilot, and our deficit will exceed $1 trillion for the fourth year in a row. This is clearly unsustainable because the federal government has been operating outside the bounds of the Constitution’s enumerated powers for far too long.
We advance conservative principles by communicating these facts and figures to the American people, not by negotiating in secret with those who have absolutely no interest in reducing the size, scope, and cost government. We need to show the American people how severe the problem is and what we would propose as solutions. Time is running out. The 2012 election must be a mandate election. It is time for America to choose. Conservatives must provide the American people with the information that will persuade them to choose the right path…the path that relies on limited government, individual freedom, and the wonder and power of a free market system.
HA: What aspect of government (i.e., program, department, agency) do you want to reform the most? What legislation are you currently pushing or working on to achieve that reform?
Sen. Johnson: The entire federal government needs reform. People often say that as we address our fiscal realities, everything needs to be on the table. I think that’s true.
That said, there are a few areas that I have focused on since my swearing in. The first one is Obamacare, which I believe will destroy our health care system. It will lead to rationed care, lower the quality of care, increase medical costs and severely limit medical innovation. I think many Americans recognize this.
No one fully understands how this law will work, and too few are acknowledging how much it will increase our annual deficits. Not long ago I wrote an op-ed with former Director of the Congressional Budget Office Douglas Holtz-Eakin. We wrote about the likelihood that millions of workers will be dumped by their employers into the Obamacare exchanges, increasing the annual cost of Obamacare by hundreds of billions. And just this last week, I sat down with the current director of the Congressional Budget Office – Dr. Douglas Elmendorf – to figure out why the CBO does not recognize this.
Besides Obamacare, I’ve tried to get the Senate to focus on the harmful effects of excessive regulation. The first piece of legislation that I introduced in the Senate is a regulatory moratorium that will remain in effect until our unemployment rate falls below 7.8 percent – the level it was when President Obama took office. We need to continue to make the point that this administration’s constant effort to impose new regulations on job creators is contributing to our sluggish economy and high unemployment.
I have offered over $1.4 trillion in suggested budget cuts. I am a strong supporter and vocal proponent of the Cut, Cap and Balance legislation. I opposed the Super Committee and have opposed most current appropriations bills as too expensive.
HA: What’s a piece of smaller legislation, or nominee, that is currently on the agenda but flying under the radar that you feel conservatives should be concerned about?
Sen. Johnson: One thing that I have been watching is how many initiatives are being temporarily deferred or suspended by this White House – but not cancelled outright. The Keystone XL Pipeline for example, has not been rejected – at least not yet. Instead, a decision is being deferred until after the 2012 elections. Implementation of the CLASS Act – a part of Obamacare which absolutely will bust our budget – is suspended – but the President will veto any attempt to repeal it. The EPA’s ozone rule is being deferred, as are many other regulations.
It’s clear that the White House recognizes the political cost of all the regulations that the President has proposed. He knows that if these rules are put in place before the 2012 elections, he and the Democrats will pay the price at the polls. But once the 2012 election is behind him, and the President knows he will not face the voters again, I fear that job-destroying, regulatory agenda will be back on the front burner. We need to force the White House to permanently cancel these initiatives, or we will pay for it in the long run.
HA: What do you enjoy the most and the least about being a Member of Congress?
Sen. Johnson: What I enjoy the most is the opportunity I have to meet the finest among us – the men and women of our Armed Services, who put themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedoms. People sometimes express concern about the future. They look at young people and wonder where the leaders of tomorrow will come from. From my trips to Afghanistan and Walter Reed Hospital, and as I visit military facilities in Wisconsin, I can tell you that our future is in good hands. I have also had an opportunity to meet a host of other truly good people as they visit my office and as I travel – both in Wisconsin and around the nation. There is true genius and good hearts all across our nation. That gives me hope.
The most frustrating part of my job is realizing that far too many people in Washington refuse to even acknowledge our financial problem, much less work in good faith to help resolve it. We need real Presidential leadership in order to end the gridlock. Unfortunately, President Obama has shown no leadership in solving our debt and deficit problem. Instead, he is devoting his time and energy to his reelection campaign that is pitting one class of Americans against another.
HA: What is your favorite thing to do when you are not in Washington?
Sen. Johnson: Just being back home. Serving in the Senate is an awesome responsibility, one that I take very seriously. When I’m not in Washington, I enjoy traveling around Wisconsin, meeting people and learning more about the State and their issues and concerns. Wisconsin is a beautiful state, and it is a tremendous honor to have been chosen to represent the people of Wisconsin in the Senate. But I really do enjoy just being back home in Oshkosh, spending time with family and friends.
HA: What do you miss most about being a kid?
Sen. Johnson: I grew up in an America that valued hard work and celebrated success. Unfortunately, what I have witnessed over my lifetime is a steady drift in this country from a culture of self reliance and personal responsibility to a culture of entitlement and dependency. It is not an America I recognize. It is not an America that will work. I miss the America of my youth, and I came to Washington to try to help our nation recapture that spirit before it is too late.