Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson charged in an exclusive Newsmax TV interview that President Barack Obama has been “taunting” congressional Republicans, citing a news conference during the sensitive discussions on an agreement to avert the fiscal cliff as an example of the president’s indifference.
“President Obama has no idea how to work with people in a bipartisan fashion and in good faith,” Johnson, a first-term Republican, tells Newsmax. “That President Obama is basically taunting Republicans, that he’s spiking the football, this is not the way to set up good relationships with Republicans here in Congress so that we can deal together in a cooperative, good-faith effort to start solving the very serious problems facing this nation.
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“Yeah, President Obama won,” Johnson conceded. “He won the election. Republicans had no power in these negotiations. We had no leverage — so he was going to get what he wanted. Our role was limiting the damage.”
And this is why Johnson was among the 89 senators to approve the deal early on Tuesday to prevent more than $600 billion in tax increases and drastic budget cuts from taking effect on Jan. 2. Eight senators voted against the plan, negotiated by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.
“What I was faced with was a very simple choice,” he began. “After a fairly disgusting process coming out of a totally dysfunctional United States Senate and totally dysfunctional Washington, we literally had less than a half hour to consider whether we wanted to vote for this bill.
“In the end, it was probably best if I could shield 98 to 99 percent of Americans from having their taxes increased and basically keep $3.5 trillion out of the federal government’s coffers over the next 10 years. The economic damage, the harm to people’s livelihoods, would be so severe that that was the No. 1 consideration — and that’s why I decided to vote ‘yes.’ But, trust me, I fully understand why people voted ‘no.’
“This was a disgusting process,” Johnson said. “It’s business as usual in Washington. It’s a bill, a must-pass piece of legislation. I didn’t like voting for it, but I certainly just couldn’t stand by and watch 98 to 99 percent of Americans have their income taxes increased.”
But the plan that was approved does bring some certainty to Americans, he said.
“All of these tax changes are permanent. We haven’t created another one of these fiscal tax cliffs. What we’ve done — for 98, 99 percent of Americans — is that they’re tax situation is pretty certain going well into the future and even more so — as long as you keep electing Republicans.
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He said that officials haven’t voted to raise people’s taxes. “We didn’t do it now — and we’re not going to do it in the future,” he explained. “We have, from a tax standpoint, returned a lot of certainty to the American economy . . . But what’s still uncertain is that we haven’t really addressed, in any serious fashion, the debt-and-deficit issue. That is still a huge hangover for this economy.”
Johnson pointed to President Obama’s news conference on Monday with “middle-class taxpayers” at the White House as an example of how deriding Republicans could backfire in negotiations next month to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.
At the session, Obama made it clear that any future efforts to reduce the deficit would have to include both revenue increases and spending cuts "at least as long as I'm president — and I'm going to be president for the next four years, I hope."
He said that the GOP seemed to think deficit reduction would come through spending cuts alone. "If they think that is the formula for how we solve this thing, they have got another thing coming," Obama said. That’s not how it’s going to work."
The audience repeatedly applauded as the president attacked Congress, saying it always seems to make decisions at the last possible moment.
“It’s a price to be paid by the American public, because they elected a man who doesn’t know how to really work with people, doesn’t negotiate in good faith, doesn’t have a clue how to create jobs, and doesn’t have a clue how harmful his ideology and his policies are in terms of economic growth,” Johnson tells Newsmax. “That’s a real problem.
“And, of course, your rubbing Republicans' noses in it is just the worst possible way of trying to develop a good, trusting working relationship with people you’re going to have to work with to solve the problems. He won the election, but so did members of the House. They have every bit of a mandate from the people who elected them as President Obama has from the people who elected him.
“The solutions are going to have to be bipartisan,” he added. “Neither side is going away, so you better learn how to work with each other — and I can’t imagine the president setting a poorer example and establishing a worse tone than what he did over this fiscal cliff.”
Johnson also said that he backed the call by GOP Sen. Pay Toomey of Pennsylvania to temporarily shut down the government to get needed spending cuts during the talks on the debt ceiling. Toomey made the suggestion on Wednesday in an interview with MSNBC.
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“What Senator Toomey’s talking about is a phase shutdown. So if we can pass things like the Full Faith and Credit Act, which guarantees what is being funded, you don’t need a full government shutdown, because you’re still going to get revenue into the federal government,” Johnson said.
“We don’t have to totally shutdown the government. That’s just the threat the administration uses to scare Americans to create this type of brinkmanship. It doesn’t have to be a crisis if we plan for it. There’s a way of doing this without threatening everybody’s livelihood — but, at the same time, utilizing the leverage under the debt ceiling to make sure that we get real reforms so that we put our country on a fiscally sustainable path.
“If we don’t solve this ourselves, our creditors will solve it for us,” Johnson said.
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