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Govt. shutdown showdowns are 'ridiculous,' Sen. Johnson explains

U.S. lawmakers are on a strict timeline to avoid a government shutdown and pass a new federal spending bill by October 1. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wi.) joins Yahoo Finance Live to critique recurring shutdown woes and outline several legislative solutions to this problem.

"If there's such dysfunction, you don't fund government, you don't fund a particular agency, you don't shut it down — you just continue funding it at last year's level until you do get your act together," Sen. Johnson says. "These government showdowns are ridiculous. they cost the government money. you always end up with some measured [continuing resolution]."

Sen. Johnson calls for "discipline" between both congressional houses in passing appropriation bills. The senator also comments on Amazon's (AMZN) antitrust suit filed by the FTC, Speaker McCarthy's leadership, Former President Trump's comments on spending, and President Biden's overall economic policy.

For more expert insight and the latest market action, click here to watch this full episode of Yahoo Finance Live.

Video transcript

JOSH LIPTON: Congress racing against the clock. The deadline for a government shutdown is now less than five days away. Senators will vote tonight on a continuing resolution, which would keep the money flowing through government and postpone a shutdown. For now Wisconsin Republican senator, Ron Johnson, will be taking part in the vote and joins us now. Senator, thank you for joining us.

RON JOHNSON: Happy to be here.

JOSH LIPTON: And so I have to start with just today's big news, big headline, FTC and Amazon, my understanding is you did vote to confirm FTC's Lina Khan, Senator. So I'm just curious how you think about this news. What you make of this of this suit?

RON JOHNSON: Well, first of all, I regret that vote. I think what miss Khan is doing is, you know, just way regulatory overreach. So I don't know too much specifics of this particular case. But generally, I have not appreciated the nominees that this administration put forward.

JULIE HYMAN: What do you think-- sorry, just one more on this, and then we'll move on to shut down, which I know is the hot topic du jour as well. What do you think that the FTC and regulatory approach should be to big tech generally? Where does it need to be reined in? Where should the FTC and other regulators be hands off?

RON JOHNSON: Well, it is difficult to issue particularly for a conservative that appreciates the private sector and wants a pretty light hand of government. I would say my biggest concern about big tech is how government interfered and used them to abridge our free speech and engage in censorship. I certainly wish big tech would use its platform positively to strengthen families, to not endanger children. I don't think they're being socially responsible. But again, I hate federal government to come in there and ride roughshod and try and overregulate an industry as well. It'd be-- it'd be nice if they would behave better on their own.

JOSH LIPTON: And Senator, let's switch gears and talk about the shutdown. I'm seeing reports, Senator, that the Senate leadership is looking to push a bill this week that would offer a short-term reprieve on a shutdown, push debate on contentious issues like Ukraine funding into November. Is that something you would support, senator?.

RON JOHNSON: I won't support this CR, because we are doing the same thing over and over again. Back in 2019, when I was chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Governmental Affairs Committee, I told our committee members that I was going to pass a bill to end all government shutdowns. And I solicited their input. We actually had three bills to choose from. I chose the James Lankford-Maggie Hassan bill, because it was bipartisan.

It was just very common sense. That's what we do in Wisconsin. If there's such dysfunction, you don't fund government. You don't fund a particular agency. You don't shut it down. You just continue funding it at last year's level until you do get your act together. To me, that's eminently reasonable. These shutdown showdowns are ridiculous. They cost the government money. You always-- you always end up with some measure of CR. So why not take the drama out of it and start enforcing some kind of discipline to make both chambers start passing appropriation bills one at a time, starting about May, June, July, so we're not leaving this to the very end.

By the way, this is a very well-honed process. It's not like we don't have a process for mortgaging our kids future. We have a very well honed process. And we're seeing it play out the exact same way one more year in a row here again.

JULIE HYMAN: And I think most americans agree with you, Senator, that they're sick of seeing this happen over and over again. I have to admit one of the things I find compelling about the bill you support is that it says, you guys all have to stay in Washington and keep working until it gets done. I'm just curious, you know, because this keeps happening over and over again, is there actually a chance that that bill is going to pass, and we will see an end to this?

RON JOHNSON: Well, I hope so. That's why, you know, I started circulating a letter last Friday. I think people are somewhat timid in terms of signing on. They don't want to, you know, upset their leadership. By the way, leadership is utterly opposed to this common sense proposal that would not only prevent this shutdown, but all future shutdowns.

And it would impose some discipline. It would prevent members from, you know, paying out of the taxpayer funds for travel back to their home districts. It would prevent us from moving on to any other legislation. We could only recess at most 24 hours in a row. So again, it's got some discipline in there on Congress to get its act together and start passing these appropriation bills.

So again, it's eminently reasonable. I would really like to hear how leadership would explain not allowing a vote on this proposal. And if we do take a vote, it'd be really interesting to listen to any member that would vote no on a bill that would prevent this in all future shutdowns. So again, that's-- again, leadership hates it, it takes some of their power away. I don't know why members don't fully support this and press leadership to take a vote on it.

JULIE HYMAN: Senator, I got to ask you about leadership on the House side, because there, it doesn't feel like leadership on your side of the aisle is driving the bus at all, right? It seems like there are other contingents within the party that are doing so. Do you think that that is damaging to the GOP's efforts to move forward with a bill like this or with keeping the government open for that matter?

RON JOHNSON: Well, I don't envy leadership, his task, particularly when you're working with the very small majority. Again, I was not particularly happy when Speaker McCarthy took the leverage that House conservatives gave him by passing an increase in the debt ceiling of $1.5 trillion and without telling anybody, just suspended it, which will probably result in an increase in the debt ceiling of about $4 trillion. So I think that was a real breach in terms of what assurances he'd given House conservatives.

So I understand why they're not particularly happy with the speaker. And they're somewhat exercising or displaying that unhappiness with this round of a shutdown.

JOSH LIPTON: And so I want to get your take as well on former President Donald Trump, who's also weighed here on truth social telling Congressional Republicans to shut down the government unless they get everything they want in the spending bill. What is your response to former President Trump there?

RON JOHNSON: Well, first of all, everybody needs to understand that the government doesn't really shut down. About 90% of it is deemed essential, so it just keeps right on operating. And of course, Congress is going to quickly step in and make sure that service members and essential personnel get paid. So again, this is really an overblown potential crisis here.

But again, I want to avoid it just in general. It's really not going to do any good. It costs the government more money. What we need to do is we need to return to a process, not that we've ever really had a particularly good process, as government has just gotten to be gargantuan. But we need to be looking at each one of these departments, their appropriation bills, scrutinizing them one at a time. So we actually can do some oversight on this and start trying to rein in government.

But right now, government is completely out of control. This process, again, is well-honed, designed to mortgage our kids future. This can't go on with $33 trillion in debt. People don't realize we're spending $1.9 trillion more this year than we spent only four years ago-- a deficit of about $1.7 trillion. Collectively, as a society and certainly here in Washington DC, we're simply whistling by the graveyard. This is not sustainable. It can't go on forever, and it won't. A debt crisis will be something horrific. There are few of us who are attuned to that and are trying to do everything we can to avoid it.

JOSH LIPTON: And final question, Senator. President Biden, as I'm sure you saw, in Michigan showing solidarity with the UAW workers. Now, former President Trump, we know heading to Michigan as well. Is there political opportunity there for the former president? Is there political leverage he can use, maybe to win Wisconsin in 2024, after losing it in 2020?

RON JOHNSON: I was asked to describe Bidenomics. I thought it was easy to define, $1 you held at the start of the Biden administration is worth $0.85. The war on fossil fuel is contributing to that inflation. An open border is completely out of control with the sex trafficking, the human trafficking, the drug trafficking, poisoning our cities.

This Democrat governance is a disaster for America. If you were asked to design a strategy to destroy this country, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a better plan than what did the Biden administration's initiated. I think that would give any opponent of President Biden enough-- certainly enough to make a very compelling case to make sure he does not get reelected.

JOSH LIPTON: Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson, we appreciate your time today, sir. Thank you.

RON JOHNSON: Have a great day.