WASHINGTON, D.C. (KELO) — “Shutdowns are stupid,” said South Dakota Representative Dusty Johnson while discussing the looming prospect of one with KELOLAND News via video call on September 28.
The deadline to fund the government comes on September 30. If Congress fails, more than 2 million government employees and an additional 2 million service members could see their pay come to a halt, while still more see furloughs and limited access to services as government offices close.
“Shutdowns don’t save anyone a single dollar. They hurt Americans,” continued Johnson. “We should not be refusing to pay our soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen. We should not be telling American taxpayers that they’re not allowed to get service from the IRS or others.”
Despite these strong feelings about shutdowns, Johnson said he thinks a hard line must be held in dealing with the issue.
“Our country is $33 trillion in debt. That’s indefensible, which causes a lot of us to make sure we hold a hard line during this appropriations process,” Johnson said.
Speaking about his efforts, Johnson says he wants to see a deal that drives spending down and keeps the government open.
A deal had been negotiated earlier this year between President Joe Biden and House Speaker, Republican Kevin McCarthy, but opposition by those within his own party who believe that not enough cuts to spending were made has derailed that initial plan.
While the Senate recently put forth a proposal to continue funding the government through November 17, 2023, McCarthy today rejected it.
Along with issues of overall spending, Johnson also hammered the drum of immigration. “The other major fault line is there are members of Congress like myself that are saying we absolutely have got to secure the border,” he said. “233,000 people entering this country illegally last month is indefensible — it is too hard to get into this country legally, and it is too easy to get here illegally.”
Johnson says that while some people would say that the border should take a back seat to funding the government, he thinks it needs to be addressed at the same time.
“President Biden failed on the border last month, and the month before that, and the month before that, and the month before that,” Johnson said. “The idea that he will magically find the will to solve this problem next month is a little hard for me to believe.”
We asked Johnson about the current tensions within the House Republicans as well. Recently Florida Republican Matt Gaetz has threatened to call for the removal of McCarthy as speaker should budget negotiations not go his way.
“You’re always gonna have colorful members like Matt Gaetz that maybe enjoy the chaos a little bit more than the rest of us,” said Johnson. “This is a time for serious legislators — responsible problem solvers — to roll up our sleeves. I’ve never seen a problem get solved by people tossing stones.”
Johnson also noted that any deal would, in the end, need to be bi-partisan, as it would also need to pass through the Democrat-controlled Senate. “I’m gonna win a few points; you might win a few point; let’s move forward with a deal that’s good for America.”
Johnson thinks he has such a deal.
While he pointed out that rank and file members such as himself don’t generally have a seat at the negotiating table, Johnson did highlight a measure that he and other Republicans had drafted, which he expects to get a vote on September 29.
That measure, H.R. 5525, would continue funding the government through October 31, 2023. It would also makes various changes to immigration law, including by imposing limits on asylum eligibility.
Johnson’s three priorities? 1. Keep the government open. 2. Drastically reduce spending. 3. Secure the border. “I suspect those are values that would be embraced by 70 or 80% of Americans,” he added.
Johnson had a suggestion as well. “How about we do this? How about we cut the federal government — non-defense; discretionary — back to the level it was back before COVID,” he said. “Not social security; not Medicare; not the defense, but all of the bureaucracy.”
Despite the looming deadline, Johnson does not seem overly fearful that a full shutdown will actually come to pass.
“We haven’t had a full government shutdown in 10 years in this country,” said Johnson. “I know it seems like they’re always going on; the reality is that getting work done in Washington D.C. can be a little messy, so it always seems like we’re driving awfully close to the cliff.”
Johnson did note that there was of course a partial shutdown in 2018, “before I was in Congress,” but that generally the Congress managed to get their work done.
If you want to avoid shutdowns, says Johnson, you need to elect more responsible members. “So many voters out there will just say, you know; ‘Never, never give any ground! Get everything you absolutely need in an agreement or say no!’ That is a profoundly naïve and dangerous attitude,” said, shaking his head. “You never, and I mean never get what you want in a negotiation.”
Overall, Johnson says there is a lot of work left to do ahead of the deadline. “I’m gonna keep working till we get it done,” he said.
Johnson also said that if a deal does not get done by the 30th, he will plan to stay in D.C., and said he will not take a paycheck until funding is agreed on.