The Wisconsin Republican senator benefits from a federal tax cut law he helped pass and faces criticism of his habit of billing taxpayers for vacation flights.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) said on Thursday that his political opponents are trying "to make more Americans dependent on government."
He has also used his position to help pass a massive business tax cut that benefited himself and to bill taxpayers for vacation travel.
Appearing on the Fox Business Network, Johnson told host Maria Bartiromo that the Senate's Democratic majority is "dedicated to their radical left policies. They figured the time is running out, so they're gonna do everything they can to try and make more Americans dependent on government, grow deficit spending. This is what they want to do, this is their aim. ... Everything, all the problems we're experiencing in this country today, almost all of them, you know, the big ones, are caused by radical left policies that, this is what they ran on."
Asked if the Senate was going to pass anything in the upcoming months, the millionaire senator answered that Democrats "are working overtime to figure out some way to entice Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to join them in increasing taxes."
This is lunacy, what they are trying to push through, and unfortunately you've got the media complicit in these awful policies as well, so they're not going to report on exactly what's causing all this. They're, in fact, confirming the fact that, "Hey, the solution to this is more deficit spending." So, no, Democrats are dedicated to, again, making more Americans dependent on government, growing government, increasing their control over our lives. That's why I say they must be stopped.
Johnson's current outrage about deficit spending and government dependence does not match his record.
He backed the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, former President Donald Trump's legislation that slashed tax rates for corporations and the very wealthy and raised taxes for 10 million American families. According to a 2018 assessment by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, that legislation will likely result in a $1.9 trillion increase in the national debt over 10 years.
As his price for backing the bill, Johnson insisted that it include a tax cut for "pass-through" businesses — companies that pay taxes via their owners' personal income tax filings — including his own plastics business.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Johnson told supporters in April: "Now, did my business benefit? Sure. Did some of my donor businesses? Sure. When you give tax relief to everybody, everybody benefits. So they want to make it sound like I carved out some loophole for a couple of people. What I did is I made sure that 95% of American businesses weren't left behind in tax reform. I'm really proud of that achievement."
In recent days, Johnson has also been under fire for using his taxpayer-funded office expense account to pay for vacation travel. In an arrangement his office claimed was approved by the Senate Rules Committee, between 2013 and May 2021 Johnson used public funds to pay for 19 flights from his Fort Myers, Florida, vacation home to his Capitol workplace.
A spokesperson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week, "He has never been reimbursed for travel to visit family in Florida but is reimbursed for returning for official business to Washington, D.C."
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin held a press event on Wednesday in Oshkosh, Johnson's legal residence, at which constituents urged him to reimburse the government for the flights.
One of the participants, retired Wisconsin resident Deb Martin, told the American Independent Foundation, "In my 42 years of work, my employer never paid for or even suggested paying for my vacation travel."
Government ethics experts told the American Independent Foundation that the practice was likely legal.
But in a phone interview on Wednesday, Common Cause Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck said the reimbursements were "surprising" and showed "bad judgment."
"Sure, back and forth from your Wisconsin residence, that's what you do. You go to work, you go home every weekend," he said. "For someone to have a home in Florida, a millionaire no less, and to have the taxpayers reimburse that seems the height of entitlement."
Johnson has also drawn criticism in recent months for opposing legislation to help American microchip businesses compete against China and for refusing to urge the Oshkosh Defense corporation to locate vehicle manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin.
"I think my concern is when government starts attempting to allocate capital, it just screws things up. It doesn't do it very efficiently or effectively," he said at a March Senate committee hearing on the microchip bill. "It ends up with a misallocation of capital. Are you concerned about that? Because you have government picking the winners and losers in this case."
Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Democratic leaders are reportedly negotiating a possible budget reconciliation package that would include lower prescription drug prices, funding to combat climate change, and deficit reduction. Johnson and every other Senate Republican have opposed the plans, but they could be passed without a single GOP vote if Democratic lawmakers stick together.
Polls show wide public support for a scaled-down Build Back Better package.
They show less support for Johnson as he breaks his pledge only to serve two terms in the Senate and runs for a third in November. An April Morning Consult Political Intelligence survey found that only 37% of registered voters in Wisconsin approve of his job performance and 51% disapprove.
The poll found that the only sitting senator more unpopular than Johnson was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose Kentucky constituents disapprove of his job performance 60%-33%.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.