U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (right) walks in the Capitol on Friday.(Photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images)
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin threw his support behind the Republican tax overhaul Friday, dismissing a nonpartisan projection that the bill would increase the federal debt by $1 trillion over the next decade.
Johnson has been a longtime supporter of tax cuts but has also crusaded against the federal debt as one of the dangers "threatening our freedom."
Speaking to reporters Friday, the state's senior U.S. senator said there was no contradiction in his position and rejected an analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation that the bill would inflate the federal debt.
Johnson said the bill would actually lower the federal deficit by providing better than anticipated economic growth. The senator cited no specific studies backing up that assertion.
"The number one solution to our national debt is economic growth," Johnson said.
The senator spoke to reporters Friday as he committed to vote for the corporate tax cuts and provisions in the bill on the U.S. Senate floor. The senator declined to say what steps he would favor if the bill does end up increasing the federal debt.
"That’s a hypothetical. We’ll have to see what transpires," Johnson said.
That didn't satisfy Democrats, who said Johnson was turning his back on a key promise from his first campaign.
"While many Wisconsinites would have preferred he prioritize tax fairness for families over this massive giveaway to the wealthy, Sen. Johnson's vote is also a clear betrayal of his promise to his constituents to cut the federal debt," state Democratic Party spokeswoman Melanie Conklin said.
For her part, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) has opposed the GOP bill and has proposed changes to it to end favorable treatment for hedge fund managers and provide more tax credits to parents and the working poor.
"I think we need to make our tax system simpler and fairer for hardworking families, small businesses and manufacturers. That is what I have been working for,” said Baldwin. “But the Republican plan is a tax giveaway to the top 1% wealthiest few and powerful corporations."
In a conference call with journalists, Johnson said he had committed to vote for the bill after winning more favorable treatment for a class of businesses in which the owners pay taxes on profits through the individual income tax. He said that would help create jobs and boost the economy.
Johnson himself is a founder of and part owner in such a business — Pacur, an Oshkosh plastics company.
The bill saw last-minute changes from Republicans this week to secure the necessary votes, a process that has drawn criticism from Democrats who say they need more time to read the bill. Johnson said senators don't read these bills word for word but get a good sense of what they do by reviewing their provisions and talking with stakeholders.
"You really don’t read this kind of legislation … you have to study it and you have to study the major provisions," Johnson said.