Sen. Ron Johnson is rolling out a bold platform as he weighs whether to run for reelection: He’s the guy who twice shut down $1,200 stimulus checks that would have gone to hundreds of thousands of his constituents.
Johnson (R-Wis.) defended his objection to the pandemic-related proposal from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Friday afternoon, citing concerns about the federal deficit, and accused the Vermont independent of lying about the GOP position on coronavirus relief.
“He … said something that’s incorrect,” Johnson said. “You might call it a lie. He said Republicans have done nothing. That’s not true.”
While Democrats support stimulus checks, the issue has divided Republicans.
Johnson, in a Friday floor speech, cited a coronavirus relief proposal the GOP released early this fall that included money for unemployment benefits, another round of money for the Paycheck Protection Program and liability reform. Democrats, however, dismissed it as a partisan bill and said it was woefully inadequate.
“We did not take for an answer the Republican bill which did not have a nickel for unemployment benefits,” Sanders shot back. “We did not take yes for an answer for a bill that did not have a nickel for direct payments.’
The push for direct payments comes as Democratic and Republican leaders are racing to finalize a coronavirus relief package as well as avert a government shutdown. While there’s general agreement around providing about $600 in direct payments, Sanders and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) are pushing for more. Earlier Friday, Johnson also blocked a proposal from Hawley for about $1,200 in stimulus checks. The direct payments are a priority for the White House.
Johnson argued that the federal deficit was the reason he ran for office and suggested that the money in previous stimulus packages went unspent.
“When I first got here, I ran because we were mortgaging our kids’ future,” hen said. “I’m not heartless. I want to help people. I voted to help people. I voted for the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, but I also am concerned about our children’s future.”
Johnson has yet to say whether he’ll run for reelection, but Democrats view him as a top target in their fight for the Senate majority in 2022. While Trump won Wisconsin in 2016, President-elect Joe Biden won the state by less than a percentage point.
After his speech, Johnson said his concerns are purely about the deficit and not about 2022.
“I’ve said I’d never vote with my reelection in mind,” he told reporters.
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.