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Broken Government

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Look to Ron Johnson

October 26th 2013

Obamacare

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is so preoccupied by our fiscal crisis he calls himself a “one-trick pony” and a “broken record.” But during the government shutdown, the Tea Party conservative wandered into a no-man’s land by criticizing the failed effort to defund ObamaCare — even as he denied our government would default on our debt without raising the debt ceiling — and RedState’s Erick Erickson called him a “liar.”

The unseemly attack from Erickson, who accused him of screaming at Sen. Ted Cruz in a GOP senators lunch where the Texan’s failed strategy became the subject of a heated debate, was simply untrue, says Johnson. But it wasn’t as “galling” to Johnson as being deemed a member of the “surrender caucus,” just because he agreed the “defund” push was intellectually dishonest.

“I don’t know any other Republican senator who spent $9 million of his own money, who ran to be the deciding vote to repeal ObamaCare,” said Johnson, adding it wasn’t chump change, only to then be blasted for voting to proceed to final passage on a bill to defund ObamaCare. Of course, for procedural reasons, Cruz and his allies needed Republicans to vote against that measure, but Johnson said the divisive tactic, which Cruz attempted to bring him on board with early on, had “zero” chance of success without a handful of Democrats joining in.

Even before the defund effort consumed Washington, Johnson has been consumed not only with the economic dangers of ObamaCare, but also with the government’s disregard for our burgeoning debt burden. Before Johnson was named a budget conferee last week, he was already meeting regularly with House members and a dozen Senate Democrats to try to build consensus for a campaign to educate the public so — eventually — enough members of both parties can unite behind a solution.

Johnson is fed up with demagoguery and platitudes he hears from both parties, and particularly from President Obama. “We are lying to the American people,” Johnson is fond of saying, because politicians are afraid of talking about how huge the problem is and often cling to 10-year projections that mask the extent of the problem. When the budget conference begins next week, Johnson will have with him his sobering charts and graphs detailing the growth of spending as a percentage of GDP, the explosion of out-of-wedlock births and number of Americans in poverty, and the high costs of college vs. inflation. He will pound away these facts: We have a 30-year deficit of between $57 trillion and $107 trillion (depending on whose numbers are assessed and compared to the $96 trillion in all U.S. assets combined from businesses and households), our per capita share of debt would startle most Americans — $54,800 per person, compared to less than $36,000 in Greece — and by 2023, Social Security will pay out $4.7 trillion more than it takes in, reaching a $10 trillion deficit by 2033.

It’s hard to be hopeful about the two sides reaching agreement by Dec. 13, as the “deal” to reopen the government requires. Johnson said it’s likely the two sides will hit the predictable wall again, particularly if Democrats seek to raise more taxes, which Johnson said was as “unrealistic” as the defund effort. But Johnson, who has assembled a “solutions menu” of options for a deal, said he hoped Republicans might be able to trade some sequester relief for new structural reforms to entitlement programs. Even if they can’t solve the problem, Johnson says, he welcomes the opportunity to highlight it.

“I’m on a mission,” he said. “People aren’t paying any attention to what we’re doing to our kids and grandchildren.”

A.B. Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill, from where this article is adapted


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