Although he is relatively new to the Senate and to politics, Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson is making waves on budget issues. Over recent months, the tea-party-backed conservative has emerged as the numbers point man for a group of GOP senators who are holding private deficit reduction talks with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and other administration officials.
The senators say the foundation of those discussions is a search for some common ground with the White House on defining the scope of fiscal issues, including how government spending and the national debt will progress over the coming decades.
Johnson authored a long-term forecast that depicts the cumulative deficit growing from $7 trillion in the next decade to $107 trillion over the full 30-year period.
Johnson discussed his efforts to raise the profile of deficit reduction in an interview with CQ Roll Call.
Q. Most attention to budgets in Congress is on the 10-year window. What do you hope to accomplish by putting together long-term debt projections and seeking agreement on the accuracy of these estimates?
A. Most people do understand, theyíve heard of, 12-step programs to solve a problem. And the first step in any one of those 12-step programs is to first admit you have a problem. And we have far too many people here in Washington that really arenít coming to grips and truly are not admitting, maybe not even to themselves but certainly not to the American public, the extent of our problem here. When you start taking a look at the long-term budget problem, it gets far more severe in the second and third decade.
Until you agree on the numbers, until you agree on the depth of the problem, until you describe it accurately, youíre not going to find solutions to the problem. In manufacturing, it just becomes part of your DNA, when you have a problem, to try and analyze the problem, do root-cause analysis. Otherwise youíre just papering over. Youíre just solving symptoms all the time.
Q. Many Democrats want to stimulate economic growth now and postpone deficit reduction until later. What do you think of that approach?
A. Well, their definition of stimulus hasnít worked. The best way of stimulating the economy is trying to get government as much as possible out of the way. And Iím not opposed to government. But our government has gotten way too expansive, has gone so far over its enumerated powers and really what is healthy for a global economy.
Q. The deficit is shrinking in the short term. Does that make it easier to agree on a long-term deficit reduction package?
A. I think it probably makes it more difficult. I think it makes it easier for politicians here in town to firmly put their head in the sand and deny its existence.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.