By Rod Stetzer
Ron Johnson’s job as a U.S. senator from Wisconsin surrounds him with numbers. And the numbers he cites are sobering.
Johnson said Wednesday in Chippewa Falls that 100 years ago, spending by the federal and state governments amounted to 7 percent of the nation’s Gross National Product, the market value of the services and products created in a year. Today, the federal government’s spending amounts to 25 percent of GNP. When you tack on state government spending, the total hits 39 percent.
“That’s too much. That’s a system that doesn’t work,” Johnson told the Herald’s editorial board.
Johnson, a Republican, was elected in November, defeating Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold. He took office in January. Since then he said he’s focused on what he was elected to do, to cut the federal government’s spending and borrowing.
He is not a fan of President Obama’s budget proposal.
“The president’s budget is not even close to being serious,” Johnson said.
He said the nation borrows $4 billion a day. That’s the total amount Democrats wanted to cut from spending, he said.
“Americans, in general, in a macro basis understand this is not sustainable,” he said of current government spending.
Place what Johnson calls a hard spending cap, which will guide the nation to a path of a balanced budget.
Everything must be considered, including Social Security. “It’s a shame it wasn’t on the table every year,” he said.
Johnson said no one he knows is proposing to restructure Social Security for people currently getting it and those over age 55. He said trying to find a way young people paying into Social Security will be able to someday collect it is a political hot potato. He said politicians aren’t addressing ways to keep Social Security solvent is because budget proposals go out 10 years, and the Social Security fund won’t have problems until after that.
He said the nation needs structural tax reform. “I’m willing to talk and discuss everything,” he said.
Johnson maintained the health care law supported by the president will be what he called “a budgetary disaster.”
For instance, he cited a Congressional Budget Office estimate that in 2016, the average cost to an employer to offer a family plan of insurance to a worker will be $15,000 a year. But the federal penalty for employers dropping insurance to employees is $2,000 a worker, creating incentive for employers to drop insurance coverage.
Those workers would then get insurance through what’s called exchanges that are created by the government. Johnson said the way the program is set up, far more than the estimated 3 million people will wind up using the exchanges. One estimate is that the government subsidy per person in an exchange will be $7,000 in the year 2021.
“I can see the costs of Obamacare (the term he uses for the health care law) can double, triple and quadruple,” he said. “This is going to be a disaster.”
Johnson is also upset over the president’s decision to involve U.S. troops in limited military action in Libya.
“He didn’t seek approval by the U.S. Congress,” he said, adding the president has not set a goal to the U.S. military action.
Asked about continued U.S. involvement in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Johnson said. “I think the involvement in the wars is going to decline sooner, rather than later.”
He said you could argue that a democratic-Iraq is a good thing, and one of the reasons what he called an Arab awakening is taking place in northern Africa.
“It’s come at a huge cost,” Johnson said.