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Why one Republican senator opposes higher stimulus payments

Most Republican senators remain skeptical about raising direct payments to $2,000, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says has no realistic path to pass. One of the Republicans opposed to the increase is Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson. He joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Most Republican senators remain skeptical about raising direct payments to $2,000, which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says has no realistic path to pass.

    One of the Republicans opposed to that is Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. And he joins me now.

    Senator Johnson, welcome back to the "NewsHour," and thanks for making the time.

    A number of your Republican colleagues, including Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley, Kelly Loeffler, David Perdue, they have all said people need help, and they need it now, and this money is a fraction of what went to big banks and businesses, so send out the $2,000 checks.

    Why do you disagree with them?

  • Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.:

    Well, first of all, I think we all agreed that we do want to help people that need help.

    I think my problem is that, as we did in the CARES Act, we sent out hundreds of billions of dollars, trillions of dollars in a shotgun approach, and we didn't target relief to those that truly needed it.

    So, many people were left behind. People that needed help didn't get it. And now here we're just — we're doing the same thing nine months later. We didn't really learn from what we did in the past, and, again, a shotgun approach.

    I have listened to Democratic senators debate this on the floor. They keep talking about $2,000 checks. But what actually happened, the way the House wrote their bill, is, this would be a — for example, a household of four people would get an $8,000 check. And that compares to the CARES Act of about a $3,600 check.

    So this is a fired above what we even did in the CARES Act, and it's just simply not targeted. I'm happy to help people. But at the depth of the recession, the COVID recession, 25 million jobs were lost from our record high number of jobs. We sent out checks to 166 million people, just a mismatch.

    So, we need to target this relief. We're $27.5 trillion in debt. By the end of this fiscal year, we will be over $29 trillion in debt. That's simply not sustainable. So, we need to — if we're going to mortgage our children's future, we need to minimize the extent we're mortgaging it, and we need to target the relief to those people who truly need it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, let me ask you about those targetings.

    Now, just for anyone who's unfamiliar, to qualify for this latest bill payment, your 2019 income had to be $75,000 or less. You get $600 then, plus $600 per child. It excludes wealthy people, non-resident aliens and adult children claimed as dependents.

    So, how much more targeted do you want those to be? And what would that cost?

  • Sen. Ron Johnson:

    No, again, we — what we're for — let me use a government employee, people that are making combined, a couple, $150,000 last year. They didn't lose their job. They didn't lose any income. If they have got a family of four, they will get an $8,000 check.

    I don't think a couple like that should get an $8,000 check. So, there's ways we can target this. And it's not going to be targeted in a day or two. We should have been talking about this, we should have been considering this.

    I have got proposals, for example, on PPP. But we need to do a better job of targeting this. This is going to cost an additional $464 billion, according to some reports, on top of what, the $900 billion we just passed.

    Again, it's just a mindless approach, sending money to people that don't need it, and probably mistargeting and not getting money to people who truly do need it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, let me ask you about the cost, then, because you have mentioned this concern before.

    I spoke with the former chief economist at the Congressional Budget Office, who said, we can absolutely afford more fiscal support. She says interest rates are historically low, financing debt, because it's completely affordable right now.

    And she also says, without fiscal support, you're looking at a longer, slower and more painful recovery. What do you say to that?

  • Sen. Ron Johnson:

    Well, she's simply not worried about these $27.5 trillion or $29 trillion that we're going to be in debt, which compares to a $21, $22 trillion economy.

    I think most economists realize that this is completely unsustainable. At some point in time, we're going to hit a debt crisis. And that won't be pretty either.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, let me ask you what you would say to some Americans out there, because millions of them are struggling to put food on the table.

    I spoke with one man who is a former Uber driver in California just a few days ago. He said $600 checks right now, I mean, he's making decisions about whether to pay rent or to put food on his table. And a lot of people look at lawmakers and say, you're objecting to this because you don't understand what that feels like right now.

    What would you say to those Americans?

  • Sen. Ron Johnson:

    I do understand. And I want to help people like that. I don't want to give an $8,000 check to a government employee who's making $150,000 last year, didn't lose their job, lost no income.

    And we just simply can't afford that extra few hundred billions of dollars. I mean, we're talking about this like it's Monopoly money. It's not. This is money that we're going to have to borrow from China or other people, and further mortgage our kids' future.

    So I'm just not cavalier about spending money that we don't have.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let me ask you, in the minute-and-a-half we have left, you have been accused of being hypocritical by Senator Bernie Sanders.

    He said, if you could vote for the tax cuts back in 2017, which we know fueled federal borrowing and drove the deficit even higher, then you should be able to back this now. What would you say to that?

  • Sen. Ron Johnson:

    Well, first of all, I disagree with him that it drove the deficit higher. I think, short term, it did.

    But we were well on our way of paying that, because the number one component of a solution is economic growth. You grow the economy by lowering regulation and having a competitive tax rate. That's what we did.

    I think that tax cut, had it not been for the COVID recession, would have fully paid for itself and then some. So, it's simply not an accurate statement by Senator Sanders.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Before I let you go, we know there's this proposal from Senator, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who says he will package together these ideas, some kind of higher direct payment, Section 230, or social media liability protections, being stripped, an election fraud commission.

    Would you support something like that?

  • Sen. Ron Johnson:

    Only if we target the $2,000 payments. And, again, we're talking about $8,000 for a household of four. Again, it's just a misnomer to keep talking about $2,000.

    But, absolutely, I think we need to reduce the — or get rid of the liability protection on their moderation policies, not completely eliminate the — Section 230 liability protection. But on the censorship part of the social media companies, we need to eliminate that liability protection.

    And I'm all for fully investigating and correcting the problems in our last election. There are a lot of irregularities that simply haven't been explained. The American people deserve to understand what happened. And we need to correct it for the next election.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, thank you very much for your time.

  • Sen. Ron Johnson:

    Have a great day.

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