Interview with Senator Ron Johnson

Interview with Senator Ron Johnson

By John King, USA - January 26, 2011

KING: Senator Ron Johnson listened to his first State of the Union speech last night in the House chamber. He is Wisconsin's new junior senator, a Republican who with the help from the Tea Party knocked off liberal favorite Russ Feingold. He is also a businessman who says when it comes to the economy President Obama doesn't seem to get it.

Senator Johnson joins us from Capitol Hill. Let me begin there, Senator. The president gave his speech last night. You were in the chamber and then today as part of the traditional road show to go and sell his ideas, the president of the United States went to your state. He went to Wisconsin and he tried to sell his investment agenda.

And I know Republicans call it spending. Let's listen to the president just a second. He was at a solar plant and he says the government has to help businesses by building roads and bridges, by investing in new technology. Let's hear from the president.


OBAMA: We need to make sure American workers can go to head-to-head with workers in any country on earth. We've got to be more productive, more capable, more skilled than any workers on earth. It means making sure our infrastructure can meet the demands of the 21st Century, rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, connecting America and the American people with high-speed rail and Internet. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Can you agree to work with the president on those investments if you get sufficient cuts in other areas or is that simply out of bounds new spending?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Well, my concern is that when the president talks about investments, he's talking about government spending and government control and obviously I'm from the private sector. I've been running a manufacturing business for 31 years and by and large I do it on my own and I -- my concern is obviously the federal government, state governments, local governments do need to provide infrastructure for businesses.

That's obvious, but capital is far better allocated by millions of individuals operating freely within a free market system, and I'm afraid the president really doesn't understand that. He's never operated in the private sector. That's the type of perspective I bring here to Washington.

KING: But based on what he said last night, do you think you could sit down with him and talk about targeted investments and I'll ask the question in this context. You say you just ran a manufacturing business and you did. Before you were in charge of that business, the business did benefit from some of the things the president seems to be talking about.

There was a $75,000 federal grant to help build a rail link essentially and then to help build a factory. That was government assistance from both the city and some federal money involved that helped that business sell its products, ship its products, so is it -- it's not totally a bad thing, is it?

JOHNSON: No -- like I said there's basic infrastructure, for example, cities obviously invest in things like industrial parks, that's where my business was located and, of course, cities put in roads. They put in sewer systems and they put in rail spurs. I mean that's what government needs to do. But the problem is, is, you know, we're spending $3.6 trillion a year.

Our deficit has just been re-released by the CBO. It will be $1.5 trillion this year. We've got a very serious spending and debt problem. We need to address that. Government can't be spending money on everything it wants to spend money on.

KING: Is that the line for you, priorities line, and do you see a way to draw that line to keep some of the president's investment or new spending agenda if you get the other cuts or is it simply the deficit is too big, Mr. President. You'll have to wait until the economy is better.

JOHNSON: What we need to do is we need to establish hard spending caps that will force the politicians in Washington, quite honestly, in states and local governments as well to start prioritizing spending. Right now we just have a credit card without a limit and that's how government is spending. You know, like a teenager that has no constraint whatsoever.

So we need to establish that hard spending discipline. And I'm for constitutional amendments to limit the size of government to 20 percent of GDP or under or balance the budget, also maybe a statute that will also limit government spending. We have got to recognize that the root cause of the problem here is the ever-expanding size, scope and cost to government.

That is what's keeping our economy from progressing forward. Business people, consumers have no confidence that we're going to bring spending and debt under control and until they have that confidence I don't think this economy is going to be moving forward and growth is the number one solution. We have got to start growing our economy.

KING: Deficits -- reducing deficits, controlling government spending that was the major theme. The president touched on it, but also was the major theme of both of the Republican responses last night from the House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan who of course is from your state and then from Michele Bachmann who delivered a Tea Party address. I want you to listen to both. We'll talk on the other side.


RYAN: Americans are skeptical of both political parties and that skepticism is justified, especially when it comes to spending. So hold all of us accountable.

BACHMANN: Instead of a leaner, smarter government we bought a bureaucracy that now tells us which light bulbs to buy in which may put 16,500 IRS agents in charge of policing President Obama's health care bill.


KING: What did you make of the substance and the tone -- some people saw this as a bit of a competition, a tug-of-war between the Tea Party and the Republican establishment. Do you see it that way?

JOHNSON: No, not at all. I see -- we're all responding to what the president had to say yesterday. Michele Bachmann is talking about overregulation, which the president was also talking about, the harmful effects of overregulation in terms of job creation and, of course, Paul Ryan is talking about the fact that nobody has really gotten serious about spending control in this nation.

It's why I ran. I did not see that seriousness. I was not happy when Republicans were spending two, three, $400 billion more than we were taking in. But again let me repeat we're spending 1.3, not $1.5 trillion more. It's a big difference. People understand that simply is not sustainable.

KING: We can see it on the House side there are some tensions and some of it is not so bad and some of it is a little bit more tense between some of the new Tea Party guys and the establishment. A lot of the Tea Party guys think even the Republican leadership will be a little bit too timid in going forward with these cuts. There was a lot of talk that you know Leader McConnell on the Senate side would have a hard time with all the several new Tea Party members like yourself. Do you see him as -- is he as committed as you are to pushing as hard as possible for cuts?

JOHNSON: You know, I'm new here, but I tell you, all I've been really hearing about since I've been here is how do we control spending and debt? People understand we've got a very serious problem. The Debt Commission, I think their report was that we had better cut -- real cuts, $3.9 trillion over the next 10 years or we're going to be suffering very serious consequences, so all I can tell you is that's all that anybody is talking about here in Washington on the Republican side.

KING: And does Ron Johnson have a number, a firm number that has to be attached to any legislation, increasing the debt ceiling in terms of the size of the package of the cuts?

JOHNSON: What I -- my preference is really going -- getting that structural reform to put on that hard spending cap, the straitjacket on all of us to force some prioritization. That's what I'd like to go after.

KING: Senator Ron Johnson, new Republican senator from the state of Wisconsin, sir, appreciate your time.

JOHNSON: Thanks for having me on.


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