This is a bit of an over-simplification, but there are basically two key factions of Senate Republicans with “concerns” about the GOP tax plan. The first, led in large part by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), is focused on the effects of the bill on the nation’s deficit and debt. Republicans have scrambled to make Corker happy, including negotiations over a trigger mechanism intended to address future budget shortfalls.
The other contingent, led in large part by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), want expanded tax breaks for pass-through businesses. The trouble is, as the Washington Examiner reported this morning, Senate Republicans “aren’t taking seriously” Johnson’s threats to withhold his support.
The Wisconsin Republican is holding out for changes that would put the tax treatment of small businesses on a more equal footing with major corporations. Negotiations with Senate GOP leaders and President Trump on adjustments to assuage Johnson’s concerns have made progress, and Johnson did vote for the motion to begin debate on the package Wednesday evening. The senator, however, said his concerns remain, and they’re not frivolous.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and his lieutenants, accustomed to Johnson’s bluster, aren’t that worried. The senator often fumes about key aspects of major legislation and complains about being excluded from the drafting process, only to vote “yes” upon final passage.
And those assumptions are well grounded. Johnson made quite a fuss in June during the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and said he was fully prepared to break ranks with his GOP brethren. But when push came to shove, the conservative Wisconsinite folded and voted the way Republicans wanted him to.
With this in mind, Johnson also caused a bit of a stir two weeks ago when he told the Wall Street Journal, “If they can pass it without me, let them…. I’m not going to vote for this tax package.”
To which GOP leaders effectively said to one another, “Don’t sweat it; he’ll change his mind soon enough.”
This week, Johnson voted with his party in committee and on a key procedural vote on the Senate floor, reinforcing suspicions that his recent bluster was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
The Washington Examiner’s piece added Johnson’s tactics aren’t impressing his colleagues.
The senator is described as abrasive, difficult to work with, and egotistical, even by the standards of the Senate, where most members tend to believe they’re smarter and more important than their colleagues.
That orneriness was on display Tuesday during the Senate GOP’s weekly luncheon, Republicans in attendance told the Washington Post, and it’s wearing a little thin.
“Senators generally have a lot of tolerance for their colleagues who have differences of opinion, but Ron Johnson actively seeks to have differences of opinion just to be a jerk,” a Republican operative with relationships in the Senate told the Washington Examiner.
To be sure, Johnson often seems genuinely annoyed with the GOP leadership, and there are lingering bad feelings stemming from Republicans’ willingness to abandon Johnson’s re-election campaign last year, when the party assumed he’d lose.
But when it counts, the Wisconsin senator nearly always votes with his party. Until that changes, it’s hard to imagine Republicans worrying about Johnson’s threats.