Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is steamed. In a conference call with conservative bloggers this morning he railed against the closed negotiations on the debt ceiling. I asked him what he thought of the prospect of a “grand bargain” with Social Security and Medicare cuts in exchange for tax hikes. He was plainly livid: “It is amazing to me . . . that you reporters have more detail than members of Congress.” He called the behind-closed-doors negotiations “disgusting.” He said tersely that this is definitely not how the process should work. As for the prospect of tax hikes he observed that when “the Democrats had a super-majority they didn’t increase taxes and now they want Republicans to do it?”
During the call he repeatedly criticized the scare-mongering of the White House, explaining that there was more than enough revenue to make payments on the debt and make all Social Security payments in the event the debt ceiling were not increased, with $1.6 trillion left over. He noted that the Treasury Department is finally working on a backup plan to prioritize expenditures in the even the debt ceiling isn’t raised. He cautioned that if there is a default or missed Social Security payments, “That’s a choice they are making.” He added, “I would be willing to work on a short line of credit” with the White House “as opposed to caving” on a real solution to our fiscal problems. He contends that “no one” is proposing forgoing a debt-ceiling hike for a year, but for days or weeks the government could get by without defaulting on debt payments, stiffing troops in combat or missing Social Security payments.
Johnson was dismissive of the notion that the president could use the 14th Amendment to evade the debt limit. He said that if the president tried this, he would “point this out to the American people” and it would be a front-and-center issue in the 2012 presidential election.
In sum, Johnson came out strongly in favor of the “cut, cap and balance” Republican formula, stressing the need for real cuts in spending followed by statutory limits on spending. (He prefers limits on spending to a percentage of gross domestic product.) But he was also critical of a balanced budget amendment which “may be a tax trap.” What he, and perhaps other Republican lawmakers, won’t stand for is a secret deal that doesn’t solve our real fiscal mess. Republican negotiators had better keep their members updated and open up the process. Otherwise, they may find it impossible to push through a deal, provided they ever reach one with the White House.