In part I of Rep. Bill Johnson's interview with The Christian Post, he talked about what it is like to be a member of Congress. In part II, Johnson discusses the Tea Party Movement, debt ceiling debate, and presidential race.
CP: You first won office in 2010 with the support of the Tea Party Movement. Is it safe to say that some in the Tea Party have been disappointed in your voting record?
I'm sure there are some that have concerns. The big issue, I think, was the debt ceiling issue. But when you sit down around the table, like you and I are now, and you talk about those issues and what I saw in Washington when those decisions came up, they leave with a different perspective.
If we had decided on January 5, in the new House of Representatives, to make no new spending bills, the debt ceiling would've still been hit, because, those are bills that are coming in as a result of purchases and commitments made by the administration and the previous Congress. There was no avoiding the fact that we were going to hit our debt ceiling.
In fact, there is a difference between increasing our debt limit to pay bills that have been duly authorized and committed to by American officials, and increasing the debt limit so that we could increase the out-of-control spending and just keep spending. We have not done that. We have set forth some criteria, we will not increase the debt limit more than the spending cuts that we're going to get, and that's what we accomplished.
The American people were really not 100% convinced that this idea of default was really going to occur, and I think the media, current company excepted here, did not help in that regard because they confused the American people about what default actually meant.
You had some people who said default means we don't pay the interest on our debt. You had other people that said default means not meeting our obligations. I'm going to tell you that, from my perspective, I believe the latter.
America should meet its obligations in the form of Social Security, Medicare, our ability to pay our military, legally binding legislation that allows unemployment compensation, the judiciary, the federal court system, the federal prison system, all those kinds of things have to be paid for.
Was August 2 really the date that America can no longer pay its bills? I was skeptical until I saw a study from the Bipartisan Policy Center, not a partisan organization. They evaluated the Treasury's own records and from August 3 to August 31, America would have taken in $172 billion. Our obligations in that same time period were $306 billion – a $134 billion shortfall.
What would happen if we couldn't meet all those obligations? Somebody would have to prioritize and make choices on winners and losers. I was not comfortable putting that in the hands of this administration. Because, when you consider our national interest [on the debt] – $29 billion, unemployment, Medicare, Social Security, keeping the military paid, you quickly run out of money. So, who are you going to pay, and who are they not going to pay? Those were very, very, real concerns.
Now I would love to throw a touchdown pass from scrimmage and win the game running away. That's not going to happen here. We're going to win this game slugging it out in the trenches, sometimes an inch at a time, sometimes a foot at a time and sometimes we get a first down.
We're spending trillions and we're cutting billions. We've got to get more aggressive, and I'm a big proponent of that. But, casting a symbolic “no” vote just to say, “I'm going to make an ideological stand here and instead of being a part of the solution I'm just going to block whatever,” that's not solving the problem.
What we did on the debt-ceiling vote was not a solution, it was a starting point. We've got a long, long way to go.
When you sit down with Tea Party folks, who are American patriots that are concerned about the direction of this country as much as I am, and explain, this is what I saw, this is what you sent me there to do, they see it differently. They understand.
We hold control of one half of one third of the decision making process in the federal government. I'm one of 435 representatives. To think that I can go to Washington and ball up my fist and start punching people in the nose and make them do what I want them to do, that's not going to happen.
CP: Do you think some in the Tea Party had unrealistic expectations about how much they would be able to change after the 2010 elections?
I'm gonna tell you that there are some who think that when I was sworn in on January 5 that I went to this side room and experienced a frontal lobotomy and that now I am just another scumbag politician that has just bought in and drunk the Kool-Aid in Washington.
Our Founding Fathers did not want a new president or a new Congress to come in and willy-nilly start changing things around. They wanted the wheels of government to move slowly and deliberately, not impulsively. So, the good side of that is that we have survived 235 plus years in a system of government based upon representative government, and the rule of law, which is the Constitution.
The downside of that is that when you need to make changes quickly and correct a course error, that is also difficult to do, and we're not going to be able to do many of the large-scale fixes until we get some cooperation from the Senate and from the administration.
We can stop things, which we have. We have changed the dialogue in Washington. We're no longer talking about how much to spend. Instead we're talking about how much to cut. When has that ever happened?
We made some headway, but we're not going to solve all the problems immediately, and when you sit down and have that kind of conversation, the Tea Party folks understand it, and I think their expectations are beginning to be more reasonable.
CP: You voted in favor of the Budget Control Act, and now the members of the joint committee (also known as the “Super Committee”) have been assigned. What do you think about the appointments?
I have great respect for the Republicans that have been placed on that committee. Four of them in particular that I know personally.
Of course, (Senator) Rob Portman, right here in Ohio, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Rob, a very sound fiscal conservative, smart, smart guy, so Rob's going to do very well on the Senate side. I don't know the other two senators that well. Fred Upton, Dave Camp, and Jeb Hensarling from the House side – you will not find any stronger, more conservative, business-focused, family-valued, “bring America back” thinking than those three.
I am very confident that we got the right people on the committee. I'm confident that this process can work.
I believe that committee will bring to the full House and the full Senate a proposal that will take the next step. Will it solve the problem? No. But it will take the next step in getting our fiscal house in order.
I can't speak to what the Democrats on the committee are going to do. I know who some of them are and I suspect that it's going to be some difficult wrangling with them to get it done.
CP: Are you supporting anyone in the presidential race so far?
There are some good ones there. I really don't think it's going to matter who wins the nomination. The job killing policies of the president and the refusal of Harry Reid in the Senate to address the spending disease and the regulatory overreach of this administration in handcuffing America's ingenuity and innovation engine, it's going to be tough for them to get reelected in 2012.
I'm optimistic that we're going to get some sound leadership in the White House and some sound leadership in the Senate and then we can begin to make more major strides in fixing some of these problems that we talked about.