Johnson: Bipartisanship needed in Congress

Razor-thin Senate margin will curb GOP going it alone

Leader Photo by Greg Mellis U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson talks about the importance of bipartisanship in Congress in the coming year during an interview with The Shawano Leader. He pointed out that it will be tough to pass bills through the Senate with GOP support alone because there are only 51 Republicans in that chamber.

Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of articles addressing issues from The Shawano Leader’s recent interview with U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson about what the federal government has accomplished in the last year, and what he hopes will be accomplished in the future.

With a razor-thin margin in his chamber, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said there will need to be more reconciliation and bipartisanship on the part of the Republican Party to get future legislation passed.

The GOP had a 52-48 majority in the Senate for 2017, but the special election in Alabama reduced that majority to 51-49. With Republicans differing on a variety of issues, GOP leaders will have to bring Democrats into the fold in order to make any progress in 2018, Johnson said in an interview last week with The Shawano Leader.

“We saw how difficult it was with (repealing) Obamacare; we fell one vote short,” Johnson said.

One need he said Congress must focus on is an infrastructure bill. Johnson said much of the nation’s infrastructure is in need of repair.

“If you’re going to deficit-spend, spend on a capital good that’s going to last for 30, 40, 50 years,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t expect someone to pay for a house with cash. It actually makes sense to invest in something for the long-term.”

What he doesn’t want to see in an infrastructure bill is what happened with the 2009 stimulus bill under President Barack Obama. The money, roughly $800 billion,was supposed to be geared toward “shovel-ready projects,” Johnson said, but only about $100 million actually went to projects in that category.

“It was basically doled out to politically connected local and state governments,” Johnson said. “We would have seen a lot more growth if that had been invested in infrastructure.”

Johnson also hopes to convince Senate Democrats to bring up long-term appropriation bills. So far, Congress has been limping along with short-term spending bills — the latest of which will expire Jan. 19.

“It puts our military in an awful position because they can’t commit to longer-term projects,” Johnson cited as an example.

Johnson also hopes Congress can come together and fix the immigration system. Besides the guest worker visa bill he is sponsoring, Johnson wants to get something in place for the Dreamers, young immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents, among other things.

“Democrats always say they’re for border security,” Johnson said. “Let them put their money where their mouth is to fix the structures, improve the laws.”

Despite the ideological divides between the two parties, Johnson gets along well with most of his colleagues on the Senate floor.

“The vast majority of them are patriots,” he said. “They just want to do the right thing. Obviously, I don’t agree with Democratic members of Congress, but I don’t always agree with a lot of Republicans, either. People have a broad spectrum of opinion there, but most people are going in there to do the right thing.”

Election interference

One of the ongoing talking points nationally is whether Russia interfered with the United States’ 2016 presidential election, and whether it tipped the scales for Donald Trump to be president.

When asked by the Leader whether there was Russian meddling, Johnson said he believed there was some, but not enough to distort the results.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Johnson said. “Did it affect the outcome? No, not even close.”

Johnson said he was briefed on the issue in September 2016 but was reassured that the Department of Homeland Security “had it covered.” He said he was still concerned and feels it might be prudent, in the interest of preventing voter fraud, to go back to offering paper ballots instead of using voting machines that can be hacked.

“I’d almost like to see a federal law, but this is all state run,” Johnson said. “Total electronic voting systems? I wouldn’t want to rely on that. Sometimes, technology is not your friend.”

Johnson said he was opposed to having former FBI Director Robert Mueller appointed to conduct a special investigation into claims of election meddling by the Russians because he doesn’t believe it has reached a point where it critically undermines democracy.

“They must be so pleased with what they did do and how it has hamstrung a year within this administration,” Johnson said.