Ron Johnson reacts to the State of the Union

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Ron Johnson reacts to the State of the Union

Premiere Date: 
February 14, 2013

Sen. Ron Johnson shares his thoughts on President Obama's State of the Union address.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Zac Schultz:

Senator Johnson, thanks for joining us.

Ron Johnson:

Happy to.

Zac Schultz:

Senator Johnson, President Obama said in his State of the Union Address, “the state of our union is strong.” Do you agree with that?  

Ron Johnson:

Well, unfortunately, I can't agree with his assessment. You know, we have added $6 trillion to our nation's debt. Unemployment's basically at the same level as it was when he took office. You know, the fact of the matter is we have far too many Americans still looking for work. Teen unemployment is 23.4%. You know, just incredibly high for those young people trying to obtain jobs so they have the dignity of being able to work. So the state of the union is not strong. And if you really want a really bad metric, the fact that median household income has declined by $4,500 during his first term, during his recovery, that's just a really bad metric. It definitely does not show the state of the union is particularly strong.

Zac Schultz:

One of those shadows looming over the state of the unison is the sequester. If that goes into effect there will be devastating cuts. Experts are places like the Congressional Budget Office predict it could even lead to a recession. With that said, are you willing to let the sequester happen rather than reach a compromise you aren't happy with?  

Ron Johnson:

Let's put it in perspective. Everybody used these words devastating to scare people. We're talking about $85 billion out of a budget that is $305 billion large. So I mean, in business, that's not even– that’s barely pocket change. So we should be able to find lower priority spending items that we can substitute the defense--  reductions to the defense spending for, so we don't harm our nation's defense. It’s President Obama’s own defense secretary that called sequestration mindless. It was President Obama's idea. I voted against it. I don't think it's an intelligent way to address one of the number one priorities of the nation, the defense of the nation. Defense Secretary Panetta also said it will be hollowing out, it would be devastating for our military. We need to find lower priority items that we can reduce spending in those areas, so we can restore the spending levels to the defense department.

Zac Schultz:

If it's not as devastating as some of the experts are talking about, then are you okay with it happening at least for a while, while you reach a better deal?

Ron Johnson:

Well, I don't think we should give up those hard-fought reductions in the rate of growth and spending. That’s basically what we’re talking about. It’s just reducing the rate of growth of government. It's been exploding. There's no way that we can continue to put this burden of debt on the backs of our children and grandchildren. We've added $6 trillion to our nation's debt over the last four years. Our nation’s debt is larger than the size of our economy. We can't give up those hard-fought gains in terms of spending reductions. My preference again, would be to find lower priority spending items throughout the rest of the budget. Let's start reforming our Medicare and Social Security systems so those things are available for future generations. There's a lot of work we have to be done. I'm willing to work with anybody who's willing to, first of all acknowledge the problem, and then work in good faith to find real solutions.

Zac Schultz:

One of the other issues brought up in the State of the Union was the push for immigration reform. There is a bipartisan package that's being brought forth by some members of the senate. Are you in line with that package, or what would you like to see happen?

Ron Johnson:

It's actually one thing I was encouraged, during the State of the Union Address, is President Obama didn't throw any political poison pills into the conversation. He didn't mention a guest worker program, which is extremely important. I know labor unions and the chamber are trying to work together and come to some agreement there. I'm definitely supportive. We have got to fix our totally broken legal immigration system first. We need to secure our borders, not only because of immigration, but as a national security issue. But we’ve got to do these things in stages. My preference would be for the house to start passing good pieces of legislation. The components of immigration reform, you know, kind of the overall reform, while the senate is working together in, I think, a very encouraging bipartisan fashion. So I'm very supportive of the effort.

Zac Schultz:

And of course he ended his speech with his pitch for gun control. Where are you on universal background checks?  

Ron Johnson:

Well, the good news here is that I believe Senator Tom Coburn is working with some Democrats in the senate. I've got a lot of faith in Senator Coburn to protect Second Amendment rights. Let's see what he produces here. Listen, I'm willing to look at anything to reduce the tragic episodes of violence we've been experiencing and probably will experience in the future. You know, unfortunately, I'm not 100% sure we're going to find solutions here in Washington, D.C.  I think, in general, the solution is going to lie with individuals, with families, in faith communities, with communities in general. But listen, I'm willing to take a look at anything. We do need to look at the overall problem. Not just focus on guns and gun control. We should be looking at what are we doing with our mental health laws. What are we talking about in terms of the privacy issues when you start talking about those things? What do we need to do just in terms of media, media  coverage of this thing? Again, all these issues are complex because they run right up against constitutional rights, Second Amendment, First Amendment, which are very important considerations and things that certainly I took an oath to uphold.

Zac Schultz:

And one of the other big issues that's going to come to the senate, very quickly, is the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense. Would you be willing to filibuster his nomination, or do you think eventually he will get a vote up or down?

Ron Johnson:

Well, I tell you what. I was very disappointed in Chuck Hagel's testimony before the senate Armed Services Committee. He seemed totally unprepared for the testimony. And, you know, he came across as, unfortunately, not qualified for the incredibly important job of Secretary of Defense. I mean, our nation faces, you know, very serious national security threats. We just saw North Korea detonate apparently a smaller nuclear device. That's very concerning. Iran is continuing to march toward its own nuclear device. We see al-Qaeda splitting up and taking seed in North Africa. We face a very dangerous world and we need a strong defense department. We need a strong head of that defense department and I'm afraid that Senator Hagel does not seem to be the man for the job there.

Zac Schultz:

But yes or no, do you support him getting an up or down vote in the senate?

Ron Johnson:

Well, I think he will. I think that will probably be a moot point. I don't think there probably is enough support to filibuster the nomination. I certainly support delaying voting on the nomination until we get more information. There's been a number of, I think, very legitimate requests for information from this administration and from Senator Hagel. So I certainly would block an early vote. But that's totally different from filibustering the nomination. I don't think there's support to do that on the Republican side.

Zac Schultz:

And finally I want to ask you about a recent speech you gave in Jefferson County at a Lincoln Day dinner where a newspaper quotes you as saying, “Liberals, Progressives, Democrats, whatever they call themselves nowadays, Socialists, Marxist.” Do you believe a Democrat is the same as a Socialist or a Marxist?

Ron Johnson:

Listen, first of all, a lot of that article was actually misquoting me. So I’m not sure where they got the information. But that was an offhand comment. That's more of a jest. I was just  basically laying out the fact that, you know, Democrats, Liberals, Progressives, they do keep changing their names. When Liberals unpopular they change their name to Progressive. So, no, that was really more of a comment made in jest.

Zac Schultz:

All right. Senator Johnson, thank you for your time.

Ron Johnson:

I've actually got a sense of humor.

Zac Schultz:

All right. Thank you, sir.

Ron Johnson:

Have a great day.


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