Sen. Ron Johnson’s new to the Senate, but he’s starting to understand the power of one senator to stand in the way of the chamber’s business.
The freshman Wisconsin Republican, a favorite of tea party activists, threatened Tuesday to delay Senate business if Democrats don’t move forward with a budget plan.
“I will begin to object,” Johnson said in a brief Tuesday afternoon floor speech. “I will begin to withhold my consent.”
A single senator can tie up the legislative process by refusing to agree to routine “unanimous consent” agreements that quickly dispense with complex Senate procedures. Those objections can be overcome by 60-vote supermajorities, but a senator determined to stand in the way of all business can effectively grind the chamber nearly to a halt by forcing all actions to undergo the rigorous cloture process.
Democrats, who are defending 23 seats in next November’s election, have not drafted a budget resolution for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, and Republicans are hitting them on the campaign trail for failing to govern.
But the political price of a full-on budget debate could be worse than the gridlock Johnson is threatening. A budget resolution would draw an endless string of Republican amendment votes designed to expose fault lines within the Democratic Party, and there’s no guarantee that politically vulnerable Democrats would vote for their own party’s budget at the end of the process — meaning party leaders might expose their rank and file to tough votes only to watch the resolution fail on the floor.
“Business as usual is bankrupting America,” Johnson said.