Wisconsin Public Radio

Johnson Opposes More Economic Stimulus Funding

Won’t back “even a dime more” until issues with past funding fixed, Republican Senator says.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Jul 14th, 2020 03:44 pm
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Christina Brungardt. Photo by Lynn Lane/Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

Christina Brungardt. Photo by Lynn Lane/Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America / (CC BY-SA)

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson would oppose spending “even a dime more” to stimulate the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic until what he says are problems with previous bills are fixed and unspent funds are disbursed, he said Tuesday on WPR’s “The Morning Show.”

The pandemic has caused economic devastation and driven the country into a recession. An emergency measure that boosted federal unemployment payments by $600 per week will expire at the end of the month. Congress is the midst of a debate about whether those benefits should be extended, and what other economic response is needed as the pandemic worsens in most of the country, including in Wisconsin.

Johnson, who voted in favor of earlier stimulus measures, said the response should have been more targeted.

“The problem with the shotgun approach we used is we just flooded hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy,” the Oshkosh Republican said. “This is not a classic type of recession. This was something caused by a virus, and we need to be smart in terms of how we’re providing the financial assistance.”

Normally, unemployment benefits do not cover the full amount that workers had received when they were employed. But because the conditions of the pandemic necessitated keeping people at home, Congress added the $600 bonus to unemployment benefits in order to, on average, bring the total up to 100 percent of workers’ former earnings. The idea was that, since having millions of laid-off workers seeking new employment would worsen the pandemic, ensuring that unemployment didn’t mean a pay cut would help more people stay home and lessen the spread of the virus.

According to researchers at Columbia University, the measures passed by Congress kept millions out of poverty. They calculated that the nation’s poverty rate, which rose from 12.5 percent to 12.7 percent this year, would have reached 16.3 percent without the federal response.

For many low-wage workers, the $600 bonus actually meant an increase in their take-home pay, even as they were no longer working.

Johnson called that a “perverse disincentive to return to the workplace, which is what we need people to do, as much as possible, as safely as possible.”

Johnson said he believes unemployment insurance should cover no more than two-thirds of people’s average weekly earnings.

Johnson said the emergency measures passed by Congress in the early weeks of the crisis totaled $2.9 trillion, of which about $1.2 trillion hasn’t yet been spent. He said he’ll oppose any new measures “until we actually fix some of the problems with the $2.9 trillion, and redirect the $1.2 trillion to $1.3 trillion that hasn’t been spent.”

Until that happens, he said, “I would not be in favor of authorizing even a dime more.”

Johnson said he takes the threat of COVID-19 seriously, but restated his view that economic shutdowns in the early weeks of the crisis were too broad, and opposed broad shutdowns going forward. He’s taken the position that it would be “crazy” not to reopen schools in the fall and said the nation “overreacted” to the virus. He’s also said it’s important for Americans to wear masks to protect against spreading the disease, and has said Wisconsin should consider new restrictions on bars.

“I was roundly criticized early on when I made the analogy, which I still think is quite good, that even though we tragically lose 36,000 people a year on the highways, we don’t shut our highway system down,” Johnson said. “We’re going to have to learn to live with COVID-19. There’s no guarantee that we’re going to have a vaccine. We have to recognize the human toll of the economic devastation as well. We have to put these things in perspective.”

Johnson Opposes ‘Even A Dime More’ In Economic Stimulus Until Issues Addressed was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

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2 thoughts on “Johnson Opposes More Economic Stimulus Funding”

  1. Jeff in Brown Deer says:

    Senator Johnson,
    Since the only thing you and the rest of the Senate have done since the start of the pandemic is pass one lousy bill, shouldn’t you set an example by cutting your lush $145,000 per salary plus perks by 40%?

  2. frank a schneiger says:

    Ron Johnson and Donald Trump share two important qualities. They each have a class-based insularity that makes them indifferent to the fate of those, the “little people”/the “losers”, who are just an abstraction to the grasping wealthy. They also share a second quality that must be covered up in that class because being” smart” is seen as being the key to success. That second quality is stupidity, the inability to absorb and process basic information. Where the two part company is that Johnson lacks Trump’s cruelty, the president’s and his inner circle’s pleasure in inflicting pain and suffering on the “losers.”

    The pandemic and his responses to it highlight Senator Johnson’s version of “Trumpism Lite.” His casual tossing out of a 3% death rate as a bump in the road, and, in the current iteration, the need for “perspective” What perspective means is that “we” have to be willing to take “some” losses to get the economy up and running. What is not mentioned is that none of those losses are going to be absorbed by Ron Johnson’s class or his donors. And, in his view, God willing, they will mostly spare his white constituents as well.

    The illnesses and deaths are going to be concentrated among “the others.” To get the economy going in Trump/Johnson land, it is immigrants and poor people (and, in an updated Fox News addition, the “teachers unions”) who are the ones who are going to have to “take one for the team.” And, to be clear on the matter, from the heights of our plutocratic class, there is an endless supply of these people, the “little people,” cogs in great American economic machine. An abstraction rather than fellow human beings. And if you give these workers a stark choice between going to work in a demonstrably unsafe environment or starving/being evicted, what do you think they will choose?

    While the cynicism of the modern Republican Party has been on full display for a long time now, what the pandemic has made crystal clear is the stupidity and sheer incompetence of this group of “businessmen” and their hangers-on. That stupidity and incompetence is producing a national catastrophe of a historic magnitude. Ron Johnson may not be exhibit #1, but he is right up there. Lucky for him that Glenn Grothman is from Wisconsin.

    F. Scott Fitsgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby about the Johnsons, Trumps, Hendricks, Menards, etc. of the previous Gilded Age: “They were careless people. They smashed up things and people and then retreated back into their money and vast carelessness or whatever it was…and let others clean up the mess they made.” In a just world, there would be some consequence for the mess that the current version have made. Don’t hold your breath.

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