By Jeff Bollier
Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson has only been in office four months, but political blogs and Web sites have already tabbed him as a dark horse with the potential to be a Republican vice presidential nominee in 2012.
Johnson, R-Oshkosh, says he’s more focused on his tasks representing Wisconsin: Helping citizens navigate federal bureaucracy, reining in spending and making the federal government operate more efficiently.
“Listen, I’ve been at this for four months…I’m focusing on the Senate,” Johnson said. “I can’t imagine that anyone would even think of me quite honestly.”
Johnson said his Wisconsin staff, including Oshkosh’s Tony Blando, Julie Leschke and Mark Nielsen, has already opened more than 300 cases for Wisconsin residents dealing with immigration, veterans, Medicare and Social Security issues. Johnson, who met with the media Friday to officially open his offices in Oshkosh and Milwaukee, said he also has held two “tele-town hall” meetings via phone that 22,000 residents participated in.
What continues to consume Johnson is trying to push Democrats who control the Senate to give consideration to expenditure restraint legislation in some form. He said there are presently proposals to limit spending to 20.6 percent of gross domestic product annually, a balanced budget act and an idea to propose a constitutional amendment to force expenditure restraint.
“I wake up every morning wondering how I can most address spending and reduce the (federal) debt,” he said. “The American people understand our present spending level and debt isn’t sustainable. I’m trying to give them what they want: A hard spending cap.”
Johnson said Senate Democrats have not committed to the effort to cut spending or to reform Medicare and Social Security. There has been public opposition to the plan House Republicans approved to replace Medicare with a voucher to buy private insurance for people who turn 65 after 2022, but Johnson said he hopes people take a closer look at the plan.
“They’re simply not approaching this in a serious manner,” he said. “(Rep.) Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) has put forth $6 trillion in spending cuts going forward. Hopefully the American people will take a look at that. We have to provide expenditure restraint.”
Johnson also addressed one of the big issues on many Americans’ minds right now: $4-per-gallon gas and the $4 billion in subsidies the oil industry receives each year.
Johnson called the subsidies “special tax deals” and said he would support ending subsidies if it coincides with a reduction in the federal tax rate.
At the same time, he said the subsidies need to be reviewed carefully to ensure those that encourage domestic oil exploration remain in place.
“I want a fair and equal tax system,” Johnson said. “But we do not want to increase the cost of exploration. I don’t want to go in (and cut the budget) with an ax. I want to go in and find ways to make effective reforms.”