Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said Friday that Republicans would offer hundreds of amendments to President Joe Biden’s stimulus package in an effort to trim the proposal’s $1.9 trillion cost.
While Johnson characterized the move as an effort to find “the right amount” for government spending in the stimulus, he also voiced strong opposition to key provisions of the bill, from an extension of unemployment benefits to aid for state governments.
This will be the third stimulus bill passed since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and Johnson said it showed that the government had become too comfortable with the idea of spending trillions of dollars.
“We’ve just lost all concept of how massive these bills are,” Johnson said. “We don’t have an unlimited checking account. This isn’t Monopoly money.”
While Johnson has long spoken out against government debt, he’s also added to it according to analysts with the Congressional Budget Office. A 2018 CBO study found the GOP tax cuts supported by Johnson would add $1.9 trillion to the deficit over the course of a decade.
Biden’s stimulus would send $1,400 to most Americans who earn less than $75,000 per year. It would also extend enhanced unemployment benefits that were first passed by Congress in response to the pandemic.
Johnson said extending those benefits would “exacerbate” the unemployment problem.
“We want to help people, but we don’t want to create a perverse incentive to stay on the sidelines, not engaged in the economy,” Johnson said.
Johnson also said he opposed the stimulus plan’s $350 billion for state governments, arguing that too much would go to states like California that shut down large swaths of their economy in response to COVID-19.
“They’re going to get the lion’s share of this,” Johnson said. “They don’t need this money. You’re not seeing states tighten their belts.”
Johnson’s comments came after he used a rarely employed parliamentary tactic to force the Senate’s clerks to read the entire stimulus bill aloud for hours on end to a mostly empty Senate chamber.
It was just the latest example of moves that have thrust Johnson into the national spotlight, leading many political observers to suggest that he’s making overt appeals to the GOP base as he prepares to campaign for a third term.
Johnson promised in 2016 that he would not run again. Asked about it Friday, he kept his options open.
“That pledge is on my mind,” Johnson said. “It was my preference then, it’s probably my preference now. I’m happy to go home. But that pledge was based on an assumption that we wouldn’t have Democrats once again in total control of government.”
Johnson, who launched his first campaign for Senate in the summer of 2010, also suggested he had plenty of time to make his decision.
“The only people that really want to pressure me in deciding right now are campaign consultants,” Johnson said.