In the News: Blog

By Will Rahn

While the battle over Gov. Scott Walker’s budget raged in Wisconsin, Ron Johnson, the state’s newly elected junior senator, was waiting to get back to work in Washington. “Why are we shut down this week?” he asked rhetorically about the recess.

It’s a fair question: The latest continuing resolution, the legislation providing funds to keep the government operational, expires on March 4. If Congress cannot agree on a new resolution by then, America will face its first government shutdown since the Clinton administration — an outcome that Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid will almost certainly blame on Johnson and his Republican colleagues. “Obviously they’re playing games with this process,” Johnson said. “I didn’t come here to play games.”

One of the new class of Tea Party-backed Republican senators, Johnson is a hard-line economic conservative eager to start cutting spending. Instead, with Congress out of session, Johnson is forced to sit on the sidelines as the nation’s focus turns to Madison and his friend Scott Walker.

“They’re definitely ginning up protester support,” Johnson said when asked if he thinks the Obama administration is involved with the protests in his home state. The White House says they have nothing to do with what’s going on in Madison, but Johnson was quick to dismiss their claim. “I’ve talked to people on the ground and they estimate probably half the people there are probably from out of state. One person there called it the world’s fair of left-wing protests. I think the national party, the national unions, have got a great deal with what’s happening in Wisconsin. They’ve definitely inserted themselves in the process.”

Johnson sees the struggle in Wisconsin not so much as a question of organized labor’s rights to collectively bargain, but simply a question of whether or not his state can close a massive and growing deficit. Walker’s budget, in his view, is really about restoring “balance” and allowing local municipalities greater discretion in how they spend their money. He said that, as their pension burden grows under the current system, school districts are forced to either raise property taxes or lay off workers. According to Johnson, Walker and his allies in the legislature are really just trying to provide local municipalities with “greater flexibility” to deal with rising costs.

“I respect anybody who works hard to build a life for themselves and their families,” Johnson said. “The issue here is that Wisconsin is facing a $3.6 billion-a-year deficit and Scott Walker was elected to seriously address that. And he is seriously addressing that. I commend him; I commend the Republican state legislators for actually not shirking their duty here. Sixty percent of the state operating budget is comprised of salaries and benefits. If you’re trying to close a $3.6 billion deficit you have to address them somehow.”

While Wisconsin grapples with its own fiscal woes, Johnson sees a fight brewing in Washington along the same lines: “This year’s budget deficit will be $1.6 trillion. Depending on what spending figure you use, that’s going to be somewhere – we’ll be borrowing 43 to 47 cents of every dollar we spend. It’s a very serious issue. We can’t ignore it anymore.” He said he thinks his primary role “as a new kid on block” in the Senate “is to highlight how urgent, how dire the situation is fiscally so we bring a seriousness of purpose to attacking these problems.”

When asked if he’ll advocate for deep cuts in entitlement spending, Johnson said that entitlements need to be made a part of the discretionary budget (“I’ve never understood why Congress, why the administration, absolves themselves of reviewing those programs”) and that a spending cap and balanced budget amendment are the keys to getting the deficit under control. After that, everything must be looked at, “including defense, including entitlements.”

For all the respect Johnson clearly has for the governor, he also sees any talk of a Walker presidential run as premature. “From my standpoint, I do like the model of the governor running for president because you have the executive experience, but I think this is way to early,” he said, and believes that Walker would agree that it’s too soon. “He is devoting his passion to solving the fiscal situation in Wisconsin, and I’m just hoping the people who voted for him will provide him that support and will let him know, let the state legislators know that their behind him.”

Does the senator think the governor will be successful? “I sure hope so,” he said. “It sure sounds like he’s well on top of the situation.”

“He’s sounding calm, he’s sounding resolved,” Johnson continued. “That’s what he — that’s what we all need to do. The people who were elected to solve these fiscal issues have got to remain strong and resolved.”

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By David M. Drucker

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) has tapped a dozen Senators, including six elected in November, to lead an expanded portfolio of National Republican Senatorial Committee fundraising programs for the 2012 election cycle.

Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) are serving as liaisons to K Street as co-chairmen of the NRSC’s Policy Board and Senate Council political action committee program. Sen. Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and freshman Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) are chairing the low-dollar Network program targeting the younger downtown donor crowd that wants to be involved but doesn’t have the means to write a large personal check.

Cornyn, serving in his second term as NRSC chairman, said Wednesday that he has asked all Republican Senators to make themselves available to headline fundraisers, both in Washington, D.C., and around the country. Acknowledging that most GOP Senators don’t support the committee through transfers of personal campaign funds — unlike their Democratic counterparts — Cornyn said his strategy is intended to compensate for that while still maximizing the fundraising prowess of his Members.

“We’re doing everything we can think of to try to do even better than we did last cycle when it comes to our fundraising,” the Texas Republican said. The NRSC raised $2.86 million in January, had $483,000 in cash on hand and was carrying $6.5 million in debt.

New this cycle are three groups of regional co-chairmen of three Senators each, with each responsible for fundraising in a third of the 50 states. Freshman Sens. Roy Blunt (Mo.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.) comprise one group; freshman Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Sens. James Inhofe (Okla.) and James Risch (Idaho) are another; and Sen. Mike Johanns (Neb.) and freshman Sens. John Hoeven (N.D.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) form yet another.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), who served as NRSC vice chairman in the previous two cycles and put in considerable hours fundraising, plans to remain involved, but at a lower level as he focuses on his re-election race and what could be a competitive primary. John Nau, a wealthy Houston businessman and Cornyn’s national finance chairman, is remaining on board for another cycle, as is the national finance committee of about eight to 10 private-sector individuals.

Cornyn presented his fundraising and political plans for the 2012 cycle Tuesday during the GOP’s weekly caucus lunch that was moved to NRSC headquarters in order to discuss political matters. The NRSC chairman, who last week announced his intention to run for the Whip slot of retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), said the response was positive.

According to a knowledgeable GOP source, Cornyn impressed upon Republican Senators the importance of participating in NRSC fundraising and other activities in order for them to capitalize on the favorable political environment.

The GOP began the 2010 cycle with roughly 40 seats and gained seven, and with 23 Democratic Senators up in 2012 compared with only nine Republicans, the party is well-positioned at this point to win back the majority next year.

The GOP source said that during Tuesday’s caucus lunch, Johanns urged colleagues to participate, telling them that he has a standing hour every week reserved to make NRSC fundraising calls, in addition to the events that he attends. Johanns announced last week that he would run for Conference chairman, which is being vacated by Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), who is running for the caucus’ No. 2 Whip position.

Another Senator to speak out during the lunch was Toomey, who last cycle had announced a primary challenge to then-Sen. Arlen Specter and was immediately embraced by the NRSC when Specter left the GOP to become a Democrat. Toomey lost a close race to Specter in the 2004 GOP primary in the face of heavy opposition from the NRSC and virtually the entire Republican establishment.

Toomey discussed how critical NRSC assistance was to his narrow victory in 2010, and his remarks were described by the GOP source as essentially a preview of the fundraising message that the Pennsylvania Republican will carry to potential donors in his work as a regional co-chairman.

“He was making the point that not all Senators might necessarily have had tough races in the past and don’t realize how important this committee is, but it’s really important that it be successful,” this source said. “That’s another reason why having freshmen like him will be so helpful with fundraising.”

Cornyn said he is hoping to begin changing GOP attitudes about having individual Senators transfer campaign money to the committee as a result of the $1 million transfers made to the NRSC last year by Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and John McCain (Ariz.), substantial contribution made by Burr, and smaller donations delivered by Ayotte, Hoeven and Toomey before they were even sworn into office.

“It seems like the Democrats always do better in that area. But we had some very generous Senators,” Cornyn said. “The more people see how others are stepping up, it creates a little bit of peer pressure and maybe a little more encouragement. That’s my hope, anyway.”

Last cycle, Democratic Senators transferred $10.3 million to the DSCC compared with $4.6 million in Member transfers received by the NRSC. DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil said he expects his committee to enjoy another cycle of strong Member support. The DSCC declined Wednesday to release its January fundraising numbers.

“They are already working hard to ensure the committee has the resources we need to win,” Cecil said.

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Wisconsin freshman Senator Ron Johnson has been named the Republican's ranking member on a Senate subcommittee.

Johnson will lead the Republican delegation on the Senate subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia. It is a subcommittee of the Senate committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. The subcommittee is chaired by Senator Daniel Akaka of Hawaii.  

Johnson told Federal News Radio that "Responsible oversight has never been more important than it is now, as we have seen federal spending increase by 25 percent in just the last few years. I've pushed for greater scrutiny of, and education about, inefficiencies and waste in government. I'm glad to have the opportunity to focus on the problem, through this subcommittee position."

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The newest senator from Wisconsin is criticizing the President's 2012 budget, which was set to go before Congress on Monday.

The plan promises more than $1 trillion in cuts, but critics like Republican Senator Ron Johnson say it's not enough.

"I'm going (to Washington) with a very, very serious purpose here," said Johnson.

"I have to communicate this to people: we are in an urgent financial situation here.  We have got to start reigning in spending.  We have got to get our deficits and debt under control."

As a former accountant, Senator Johnson says he's looking forward to getting into the details of the budget.

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By Andrew Bair

This weekend, conservatives of all stripes gathered in Washington DC for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). The event drew Republican leaders, presidential hopefuls and 11,000 conservative grassroots activists.

Throughout the weekend, dozens of strong pro-life leaders addressed the attendees. A central rallying cry at the conference was the need to repeal the pro-abortion Obama healthcare law. 

Likely presidential contender and former Governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty boldly called for the repeal of Obamacare. Pawlenty’s impassioned remarks silenced many of his critics who say he has an energy deficit in speeches.

Many other presenters also emphasized Obamacare repeal including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. John Barrasso, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Rep. Michele Bachmann and Rep. Kristi Noem. McConnell renewed his commitment to fighting Obamacare in the Senate. A bill to repeal the law succeeded in the House but ultimately failed in the Senate on February 2nd. McConnell’s leadership delivered every single Senate Republican vote in favor of repeal.

Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who ousted long-serving pro-abortion Senator Russ Feingold in 2010, took the opportunity to call attention to healthcare rationing under Obamacare. As the father of a girl with special medical needs, Johnson is deeply concerned that many of the provisions in the new healthcare law will hinder patients’ ability to get the care they deserve. This echoes concerns raised by the National Right to Life Committee.

Despite calls from some fiscal conservatives for the conference to ignore social issues, many speakers dedicated portions of their remarks to issue of abortion.
 
Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a rising star in the Republican Party who delivered the GOP response to President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union Address, linked fiscal and social issues saying both “come from the same moral root.” Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a champion of the right to life movement, remarked, “The social issues are the issues that matter” and that the judiciary cannot create life and has no right to define when human life begins or is allowed to be prematurely ended.
 
In a touching speech on Thursday, newly elected pro-life Representative Raul Labrador of Idaho, dedicated his speech to his mother who had been pressured to have an abortion. In tears, Labrador affirmed the strength of his mother who made great sacrifices as a single parent to raise him.
 
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour touted his pro-life credentials in his speech on Saturday, commending his state for enacting numerous protective laws for unborn children. Barbour also sat down for an interview with Steven Ertelt, Editor of LifeNews.com, to reaffirm his commitment to the right to life and to clarify previous statements he had made calling for a “truce” on abortion.

“A lot of people think while Republican Governors were attacking fiscal issues we were ignoring social issues. That’s not right,” he said. “My first year as Governor my pro-life agenda was adopted by our Democrat- majority legislature, and Americans United for Life named Mississippi the safest state in America for an unborn child.”
 
Former Massachusetts Governor and almost certain presidential contender Mitt Romney railed against the pro-abortion policies of the Democratic Senate Majority and the Obama Administration highlighting, “Liberal social policies have failed to protect the unborn.” Another potential presidential contender, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called on President Obama to “sign a bill repealing federal funding for abortion in the United States.”
 
Business mogul Donald Trump made an unexpected appearance at CPAC on Thursday, fueling speculation of a 2012 presidential run. In his speech, Trump told the audience he is “pro-life,” an admission that may come as a surprise to many people noting his pro-abortion statements in the past. In his first introduction to the conservative base of the Republican Party, acknowledging his pro-life position in such a prominent way was commendable.

Meanwhile, pro-life Indiana Governor Mich Daniels did not touch any of the hot-button social issues such as abortion in a dinner speech he gave at CPAC – after saying last summer social issues should be put on the back burner in a “truce” so the economy can be addressed first.

Finally, a straw poll showed abortion came in as a the 6th most important issue out of 16 issues the poll covered.

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By Scott Wong

In the battle between Washington and the tea party, Washington is winning among the Senate’s Republican freshmen.

Many have hired lobbyists and other D.C. insiders to run their offices. Ten of the 13 GOP freshmen have shunned any formal affiliation to the tea party. And most are quick to follow marching orders from Republican leadership. They rarely speak on the Senate floor, they haven’t been introducing much legislation. And they’ve been quietly loyal on roll call votes.

When called on by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — an establishment Republican if there ever was one — freshmen have jumped at the opportunity to travel overseas, appear with GOP leaders at news conferences and give the official response to President Barack Obama’s weekly radio address.

All this makes them, well, quite senatorial — which is a sharp departure from the anti-establishment, anti-Washington attitude they brought to the campaign trail last year.

“All 47 [Republican] senators are given opportunities for all sorts of things. I’m happy to take advantage of those,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told POLITICO. “Anything I can do to help communicate our message, I will help out.”

Sure, freshman Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has stormed onto the scene, co-founding the Senate Tea Party Caucus, opposing McConnell on the PATRIOT Act extension and proposing eye-popping budget cuts that have made even some in his own party wince.

But he’s an outlier among this large crop of Republican freshman. The truth is, few seem much interested in shaking up the GOP establishment.

Unlike Paul, Johnson and fellow GOP freshman Marco Rubio of Florida, who rode the same tea party wave to victory last fall, have yet to speak on the Senate floor or introduce legislation. And neither has shown a desire to make national headlines.

While Johnson addressed the influential, tea-party-friendly Conservative Political Action Conference late last week, his message was in line with the party’s agenda: Reverse the health care law, end regulatory overreach, deal with America’s mounting debt and take on Obama.

“If I could wave a magic wand, I would wipe the entire Obama agenda off the table and start from scratch,” said Johnson, whose speech was bereft of the red meat that marked the 2010 campaign. 

Behind all this seems to be the hand of the ultimate insider — McConnell — who needs only to look down the hallway at the House chamber, where an activist group of 87 Republican freshmen is causing major headaches for House leaders, to see the problems freshmen can cause.

“Clearly, he wants to be more than the ‘party of no,’ especially if he wants to gain the majority in 2012,” said Sarah Binder, a George Washington University political science professor and congressional scholar at the Brookings Institution. “So there’s an incentive for McConnell to do everything he can to entrench these members to build up the reputation of the Republican Party and the Senate GOP caucus, to get well known at home and raise money.”

The reality is that despite the rhetoric on which they rode into the Senate, most of these GOP freshmen were already establishment types. Nearly all previously served in elected offices in which legislative success comes from compromising and building consensus — not throwing bombs.

Seven of the Senate GOP freshmen have served in the House, including Indiana’s Dan Coats, who spent 10 years in the Senate and eight years in the House, and Rob Portman of Ohio, President George W. Bush’s budget director. Sen. John Hoeven was governor of North Dakota, while Sen. Marco Rubio was Florida House speaker from 2007 to 2009.

Though it’s not unusual, a handful of freshmen — including three who are new to Washington — turned to D.C. insiders for their chiefs of staff.

Both Rubio and Johnson chose lobbyists from Navigators Global who had served in the George W. Bush administration and on Capitol Hill. Rubio tapped Cesar Conda, who co-founded the D.C.-based Navigators after serving as Vice President Dick Cheney’s top domestic policy adviser. Johnson brought on Don Kent, a former adviser to then-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire hired John Easton, a lobbyist with VH Strategies who formerly served as chief of staff to then-Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.).

Meanwhile, Portman turned to Rob Lehman, his chief of staff during Portman’s stints as U.S. trade representative and White House budget director. Lehman most recently was a lobbyist with Squire, Sanders & Dempsey.

The freshman senators won’t have to worry about facing voters until 2016, so they’re a lot more insulated than their tea-party-driven House counterparts, who have to run next year.

“Different people have different styles,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who as National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman helped get the 13 freshmen elected. “Some feel more comfortable coming in and taking the bull by the horns immediately and others — I understand why they want to learn a little bit more about how the institution works, how they can be effective.”

Paul hasn’t exactly followed the gentle seen-and-not-heard freshman senator playbook.

His bill calling for $500 billion in spending cuts this fiscal year would end foreign aid to Israel and other allies, decimate the Education Department budget and trim $50 billion from defense spending, a sacred cow that few in the GOP are willing to slay.

“There aren’t many Republicans who would even consider cutting military spending,” Paul told POLITICO. “That’s the big compromise that has to happen [with] people. That’s where our problem is.”

Paul’s other rookie colleagues are sticking to script.

“With the debt that weve accumulated, it’s not sustainable, it’s harming our economic prosperity and the future of our country,” Ayotte told POLITICO. “The debt that we owe is not a Republican issue; it’s not a Democratic issue; this is an American issue that we need to come together on behalf of our country on.”

Johnson, for his part, doesn’t yet feel the need to stand out.

“I do want to listen and learn before I speak and act,” Johnson said. “You can yak all day long, but I think you need to be a little more judicious in what you say and how often you say it.”

Both Rubio and Johnson don’t have any plans to introduce legislation in the immediate future, and Rubio has declined virtually all national media interviews during his first month in the Senate. Rubio’s representatives repeatedly reminded reporters Friday that the senator was holding low-key events at a naval station and his new regional office in Jacksonville, Fla., a dramatic contrast to a year ago, when Rubio was the keynote speaker at CPAC.

The low-profile approach has paid dividends for some rookie senators, namely, in the form of media exposure, foreign trips and more face time with leadership.

Since the midterm election, Rubio, Johnson, Ayotte and Mark Kirk of Illinois have been tapped by party leaders to give the GOP weekly radio address, though aides say all freshmen will eventually get their turn at the microphone. Johnson and Ayotte have appeared at news conferences with leadership.

And Rubio, Johnson, Ayotte and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania accompanied McConnell on a trip last month to Afghanistan and Pakistan to meet with foreign leaders, U.S. military commanders and troops. Rand Paul and fellow Tea Party Caucus member Mike Lee of Utah weren’t invited.

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By Craig Gilbert

Interviewed shortly after his speech at CPAC Thursday in Washington, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson was mildly self-critical about his delivery (he lost his thread for a several beats at one point), but said speaking out, both locally and nationally, about the debt and deficits was an important job for him.

“It’s what I have to do. I realize that. I do have to get better at it,” said Johnson, who read from a text, not a teleprompter. “If we’re going to solve the fiscal crisis of this nation, you have to have people that are serious about doing it and you have to have those people willing to communicate how serious the situation is. I’m hoping there’s a lot of us. I’m hoping there’s a lot of us that can be effective about it. And that we come up with the powerful anecdotal pieces of information that will convince the American public just what we have to do.”

In his speech, Johnson said he was “afraid that too many Americans are willing to keep their heads in the sand and refuse to face the reality” of the nation’s debt.

In the interview, Johnson said: “Who wants to hear bad news? When you’ve got people within the political parties not seriously addressing this or saying, ‘Oh, it’ll be okay. This is America! We’ll take care of this! We don’t have to cut anything.' I’m afraid people are actually going to listen to that, and I don’t think it’s true.”

Johnson said he is prepared to vote against raising the federal debt ceiling in the coming weeks unless it is linked to what he calls “hard spending constraints” such as an overall cap on federal spending as a share of GDP.

“I’ve got an open mind in terms of what form and shape that’s going to take. Things that will straight-jacket politicians here and force the prioritization of spending -- give politicians the cover they need to actually cut spending,” said Johnson.

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U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson this morning ripped Democrats over health care reform and deficit spending, charging that "they want more government, and they are certainly willing to sacrifice our freedom in their quest for more power over our lives."

"For decades we have been trading bits and pieces of our freedom for the false promise of economic security. And now the bill is coming due," Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said in prepared remarks for a speech at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. "Liberals have done an excellent job of convincing generations of Americans that they are entitled to benefits and that someone else will pick up the tab. The result has been devastating to our culture and to our society."

Johnson recalled the story of the his daughter's life-saving heart surgery as an infant -- told many times during last year's campaign -- and accused liberals of demonizing doctors in order to pass health care reform legislation last year.

"You can see why I took such offense to the demagoguery," Johnson said. "Our daughter was saved by a group of medical professionals that were now targets of a coordinated liberal attack."

Johnson also encouraged the audience to pay attention to the "doomsday numbers" mentioned during CPAC, in particular arguing that the country's total unfunded liability exceeds the U.S. asset base by $39 trillion.

He also ripped the Environmental Protection Agency as "out of control" and said the nation's welfare system has "created incentives that have caused out of wedlock birth rates to skyrocket."

"What I have sadly witnessed over the course of my lifetime is a slow but steady drift -- and I would argue over the last two years, a lurch -- toward a culture of entitlement and dependency," Johnson said. "This is not an America I recognize. It is not an America that will work."

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By Craig Gilbert

Addressing the nation’s largest annual gathering of conservatives Thursday, Sen. Ron Johnson accused liberals of demonizing doctors and business people, fostering entitlement and dependency, and sacrificing “our freedom in their quest for more power over our lives.”

Johnson was the second speaker at CPAC, an annual three-day event in Washington DC that will feature many of the Republican Party’s presidential hopefuls.  Conference organizer David Keene said 11,000 people had registered for the event, although there were far fewer than that in the hotel hall at the outset of the event. 

Johnson followed key-note speaker Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who told attendees, “We have seen President Obama usher in socialism under his watch over the last two years.”  After Bachmann’s speech earned a loud ovation from the crowd, Johnson called it a “hard act to follow.”

The GOP freshman from Wisconsin was one of several speakers chosen by organizers to showcase the election last fall of conservative newcomers to politics.

“I realize many - if not most - of you, had no idea who I was prior to November second - or even five minutes ago for that matter,” Johnson told the morning crowd, before retelling the story of his decision to run for office to fight the new health care law. 

Some excerpts from his 23-minute speech:

 “What I have sadly witnessed over the course of my lifetime is a slow but steady drift - and I would argue over the last two years, a lurch - toward a culture of entitlement and dependency. This is not an America I recognize. It is not an America that will work.”

“Liberals have done an excellent job convincing generations of Americans that they are entitled to benefits and that someone else will pick up the tab. The result has been devastating to our culture and to our society.”

“The liberal solution is to spend more and tax more. They want more government, and they are certainly willing to sacrifice our freedom in their quest for more power over our lives. We simply can’t afford this approach any longer.”

“If I could wave a magic wand, I would wipe the entire Obama agenda off the table and start from scratch.”

“I really wish I could stand up here and tell you that everything will be O.K. But I can’t. From what I can tell, there are still politicians here in Washington that remain in a state of denial. I’m also afraid that too many Americans are willing to keep their heads in the sand and refuse to face the reality of the situation. Most people say they want to reduce the deficit and balance the budget, but I fear too few will be ready to embrace the necessary solutions.”

“Now that I'm here I can see we need more allies. We need more citizen legislators who understand the gravity of the moment, and are willing to put their lives on hold to join this fight.”

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S: What did you like most about the University of Wisconsin-Stout?

RJ: I had a great time visiting the campus. I enjoyed the people I met and certainly enjoyed touring the labs - with fully functioning production equipment. It was a very impressive facility.

S: UW-Stout prides itself in preparing its students for real world, focused professions. One such focus is in the field of packaging. As an owner of a packaging company, how beneficial is it to have a university like UW-Stout training prospective employees? Do you think more universities should follow our polytechnic lead?

RJ: I think it's great that there are polytechnic schools like UW-Stout, and the focus on packaging is encouraging. It's important that our educational system offer training in areas that have a direct impact in manufacturing and production. I think one way to help ensure a strong manufacturing base is to offer interested students an educational background that prepares them for careers in this area.

S: Do you support the federal government's role in equalizing the opportunity for students of all incomes to obtain a college degree? If so, how will you expand that opportunity? If not, what alternatives are there for low-income students to afford a college degree?

RJ: I would like to see everyone who wants to go to college be able to go. I also think that every high school student should have good information on all the possible options as they approach graduation: four-year college, two-year college, technical college, military or just straight into the workforce.

S: College students are increasingly tuning out their elected representatives due to the negative rhetoric being thrown around from all sides in the political mainstream. As a consequence, distrust in the government among young people is at its highest level ever. In the next six years, how will you seek to restore that sacred trust needed for our government's inevitable existence?

RJ: I can't pretend to speak for all sides, but I would say that I have made clear that I am eager to work with anyone who is legitimately committed to solving the fiscal crisis our nation faces. The Congressional Budget Office's latest projection shows us adding another $12 trillion to our debt over the next 10 years-and this assumes a rather rosy scenario. This is simply not sustainable. I'm very hopeful that both parties can work together in the next few years to address this serious problem.

S: As young citizens, it is difficult to believe that our voices can make a difference in the world. What can we do now to benefit America for future generations to come?

RJ: We all worry at times that our voices are not being heard. I think the answer is similar for all Americans, regardless of age or background. We need to be educated on the issues. And we shouldn't just accept what we hear in the media; we should critically consider what we hear and read. And of course, we should make sure to vote - and not just in presidential elections.

S: Your political career was conceived out of a Tea Party rally. Yet, you chose to not attend the first Tea Party Caucus in the United States Senate. Why?

RJ: I sprang from the tea party and have a great deal of respect for what they represent, but I've decided not to join the Tea Party Caucus at this point in time. I want to put all my energy toward unifying the Republican Caucus, with cutting unnecessary spending as our top priority. And I'll add that I'm very encouraged that there is such unity on that right now.

S: You voted to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. However, there are some areas in which you have stated you are in agreement with the law. Like, for example, insurance companies being unable to deny coverage for preexisting conditions. Do you agree that college students should enjoy the freedom of staying on their parents plan until they are 26 years old? What other aspects of the bill do think should continue to be the law of the land if PPACA gets repealed?

RJ: I think this is an area that Congress needs to look at much more closely - and we will. The reality is that any mandate, including guaranteed issue and coverage on parents' plans, will tend to push insurance rates upward. And so as we identify any provisions we might want to retain, we have to consider the effect on rates.

One of the prime rationales for passing Obamacare was to lower health care costs going forward. And the Congressional Budget Office reports that it will actually increase costs. Regardless of ideology, I think we all ought to be able to agree that we really haven't done anything to solve our current health care problems. We've likely made them worse.

S: The President of the United States recently visited the Orion Energy Systems factory, a renewable energy firm based in Manitowoc, WI, to highlight the kind of innovation that will reinforce the backbone of a sustainable United States. In the State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama set a goal for the United States to obtain 80 percent of its electricity from clean energy sources by 2035. Will you support him in this energy efficiency effort?

RJ: I am all for more clean energy, but it must be able to compete and survive on its own in the marketplace. I'm pleased that the President is talking about clean coal and nuclear as part of the solution, but I think even more important is to expand the domestic energy supply generally. Our dependence on imported oil continues to grow, year by year. And as China and India develop economically, their demands for energy will increase, too. The United States needs to focus on energy self-reliance.

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