Johnson, Pocan Discuss Budget, Tax Issues

Published May 3, 2013. By Andy Szal. In

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan disagreed sharply about federal budget issues currently before Congress at a forum on the UW-Madison campus. Both lawmakers last night acknowledged the need to address the national debt and praised efforts to bridge the partisan gap in Washington. But Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said proposals from the White House and Senate would never bring the federal budget into balance, while characterizing efforts to raise taxes as “punishing success” that would put economic growth in jeopardy. Pocan, D-Madison, countered that the debt solution would require both revenue increases and spending cuts, slamming the House budget as “embarrassing” and suggesting it would implement the type of austerity that has slowed European economies. “Addressing the economy and creating jobs right now -- that will help us if you can get people back to being taxpayers,” Pocan said. In addition to putting revenue on the table, Pocan said the discussion about needed cuts would have to include defense spending and tax credits, decrying the “meat axe” approach of sequestration that he said allowed lawmakers to keep funding bad programs. Johnson called the current tax code a “travesty” that should be scrapped altogether, but defended GOP budget efforts as “trying to limit (spending) growth in a responsible fashion” -- not cuts. He said calling the House budget austerity was “good political demagoguery” but “simply not true.” The two lawmakers also debated Social Security at length, with Johnson saying the program has a current cash deficit and arguments that the program’s fund is solvent until 2033 are “dishonest.” Pocan called for a “cautious” approach to Social Security, suggesting simply increasing the amount of wages subject to the Social Security tax back up to 90 percent would bolster the program for decades. Johnson and Pocan each began their presentations at the forum -- hosted by the Concord Coalition, UW-Madison’s Bipartisan Issues Group, and debt advocacy groups Fix the Debt-Wisconsin and The Can Kicks Back -- by touting progress made on fiscal issues in recent months. Pocan praised the fact that proposals from all three parties in budget discussions -- the House, Senate and White House -- have been floated for the first time in years, saying the absence of a budget during that time was “a sad statement about our values.” Johnson, one of thirteen GOP senators to dine with the president in recent weeks, lauded the outreach effort and said he believes lawmakers on both sides “all want a prosperous America.” “Let’s at least start by not questioning each other’s motives,” Johnson said.