ABC News’ Rick Klein ( @rickklein ) reports:
A payroll tax cut has emerged this week as a possible way for Washington to seek to spur hiring, as concerns about the sluggish economy are impacting deficit-reduction talks between the White House and congressional leaders.
But even some staunch supporters of lower taxes say this is a dangerous idea, since it would take even more revenues away from the federal government at a time of spiraling deficits and debt.
On ABC’s “Top Line” today, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. –- who spent more than three decades in manufacturing before being elected to Congress last year with tea party support -- said it would be a mistake to lower the payroll tax paid by businesses.
“I would love to be talking tax decreases -- I mean I really would -- but right now we've got to focus on providing the structural reform for entitlement programs and just [spending] caps, to discipline Washington once and for all,” Johnson told us.
Asked whether a payroll tax cut would make the deficit worse, Johnston said: “Unfortunately, I think it would.”
“Let's face it: Part of the problem is the entitlement programs that are simply unsustainable. So we've got to provide structural reform,” Johnson continued. “As unfortunate as it is that we can't be talking about tax decreases to spur the economy, the fact of the matter is they use Keynesian economics. They indebted us to another $2.4 trillion these past three years. Total employment's down since when that program started. It hasn't worked. It just hasn't worked. We've dug ourselves such a deep hole.”
Johnson blasted President Obama for not showing sufficient leadership in trying to address the debt.
“What I see this president do [is] literally phone it in,” Johnson said. “He sends his vice president to do negotiations maybe once a week. Guess he's gonna be talking today -- it's all behind closed doors. What this president should have done is sent up a serious budget. ... We need a leader here. This country hungers for leadership.”
We talked a little Wisconsin politics with Johnson, with several Republican lawmakers facing recall elections, and Gov. Scott Walker’s, R-Wis., move against public-employee unions drawing a national backlash.
“It certainly roiled up the body politic in Wisconsin. But you know, let's face it, our Gov. Walker and the new Republican legislature was faced with $8 billion a year budget deficit. They did what I think most voters want their elected officials to do: you know, go into their jobs and make the hard choices, take the tough votes. Not necessarily what's popular but what's necessary.”
And Walker called on Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., to step down, if only so the media focus can move back to the spending issues Congress is wrestling with.
“I wish he would just to get that story off the front page, so we can again focus on what's going on in this country,” Johnson said. “To me, there's no greater issue right now than the fiscal situation of America. It is such an urgent problem, and to have it being distracted from even five minutes by that type of nonsense and shame. ... I take no pleasure in these types of stories at all. I just want him off the front page so we can actually start attacking the problems, start growing our economy, start creating jobs. That's really what we're here to do."
Also today, we checked in with The New York Times’ Carl Hulse about Rep. Weiner’s future, and the deficit talks. Hulse told us that he’s told associates that he’s getting the message that his colleagues want him to resign, but that he’s inclined to stay in office anyway.
With the House coming back into session next week, if Weiner is still in office, “a circus is probably an understatement” to describe the feeding frenzy that will set in.