Sen. Ron Johnson may be new to town, but he’s channeling his freshman vigor via the most old-school of approaches: a traditional filibuster.
The Wisconsin Republican took to the floor Tuesday to protest Congress’ failure to approve a budget, dismissing President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats as “unserious” and “business as usual,” and to say that he won’t concede the floor until the Senate brings forth a budget.
“Unless we receive some assurance from the Democrat leadership that we will actually start addressing our budget out in the open, in the bright light of day, I will begin to object,” Johnson said. “The American people deserve to be told the truth. Unless that happens, I will begin to withhold my consent.”
Johnson’s first move was to object to the relinquishing of a quorum call. As long as he is in the chamber, he can hold the floor. Johnson also can use the assistance of Republican colleagues to relieve him for spells — for example, to eat or take bathroom breaks — making his one-man stand a collective protest against Democrats as the budget debate continues to roil Congress.
“He has lots of friends. He is one of the most well-liked members of the Conference,” a top Senate GOP aide said about whether other Members might assist Johnson in his filibuster.
Johnson’s unusual move is the latest development in the Republican push to pressure Democrats on the budget. At the end of last week, the GOP negotiators in a bipartisan group led by Vice President Joseph Biden dropped out of talks to reduce the deficit and raise the debt ceiling. With the Treasury Department estimating that Aug. 2 will be the deadline to raise the debt limit to avoid government default, the president is expected to quickly work out a deal with Congressional leaders.
Yet Johnson decried this process as “a few people talking behind closed doors” and detrimental to a nationwide debate on the government’s burgeoning debt.
Instead, the freshman Republican, a Member with little negotiating clout but all the power in the world if he holds up the Senate floor, offered his own solution.
“So let me start the process by throwing out a number: $2.6 trillion. This is $800 billion more than we spent just 10 years ago. That is the amount that President Obama, in his budget, says the federal government will receive in revenue next year,” Johnson said. “If we only spent that amount of money, we would be living within our means. What a concept, huh?”
It was not immediately clear how long the standoff would last, but at a minimum, it was a quick splash for a new Member looking to make his mark.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.