Tom Kacich: Johnson sees temporary solution for fiscal cliff

Tom Kacich: Johnson sees temporary solution for fiscal cliff

Retiring U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson agrees with his successor that the outgoing Congress is unlikely to pass a permanent solution to the so-called "fiscal cliff" tax and budget issues.

Like Congressman-elect Rodney Davis, the Urbana Republican said he is disappointed with the continuing gridlock in Washington.

"Rodney, I think, summarized fairly well what the history of the Congress has been, and that is to put off until tomorrow what you can do today. If I had to guess I'd say that there's a less than 50 percent chance that we're going to have a permanent solution enacted by the end of the year," said Johnson, whose 12-year tenure in Congress ends Jan. 3.

"One way or another we're in a situation now where we shouldn't be and I think Davis was correct when he said it's been handled irresponsibly. My guess is they're just going to punt and reach some temporary solution and everybody's going to get up and rail against the other party and ultimately put enough votes on the board to pass the bill," said Johnson. "I think that's irresponsible, but if I had to bet I'd bet that's what happens."

The temporary solution, Johnson said, likely will include some budget cuts and tax changes affecting high-earners.

"I think there has to be some budget cuts or you wouldn't get enough Republican votes to support it. And I think the Democrats, in order to appeal to their base, would have to say that they got some concessions in terms of high-income taxpayers or else it would never pass. They're going to want something," he said.

Johnson's also concerned about rumors that the temporary fiscal cliff solution could be tied to a permanent farm bill, also caught up in a House stalemate.

"That would put a lot of people in a difficult situation, those who oppose a short-term fix and support the farm bill," he said.

The House is scheduled to adjourn on Dec. 14 "but we'll never adjourn then," he predicted. "We might not get done until Christmas Eve."

"That alone says it all. It's just another indication of the inability of the parties to work together, and the lack of any kind of a willingness to try to get to a consensus, and carrying on the anger and the hostility beyond the election," Johnson said. "I don't want to cast my last vote for a bill that's a, a temporary fix and b, a product of rancor and temporary cessation of hostilities. I don't want that to be my legacy, nor do I want to have to vote against a farm bill that I have been incredibly supportive of through the whole process."

Immigration reform

Johnson is more optimistic the House this week will approve a high-tech visa bill that could be the first step toward major immigration reform.

"There are two sides to the immigration issue and one gets all of the attention. It's the illegal immigrants and the question of what do you do with people who are already here," he said. "But the other side of the coin that gets little attention but which this bill addresses substantially is the legal immigrants who in some cases get caught up in the system but in some other cases the law doesn't permit them to come here even though American industry and businesses and farmers and universities need to have them here."

The bill, he said, "faces square-on the needs in our system. The political part of this is that Republicans got our rear ends handed to us, and I think this is an effort on the part of the Republican leadership not only to address a significant issue but also to address a significant political issue."

Johnson said two of his staff members spend almost all of their time on immigration issues related to University of Illinois staff and students, as well as prospective high-tech employees at 15th District businesses.

"I'm enthusiastic about this," said Johnson, who is a cosponsor of the legislation. "It's a big deal."

In contrast to the obstructionism on the fiscal cliff issue, the immigration proposal is on a fast track, Johnson said.

"We're going to pass it in the House this week. And it could be kicked over to the Senate and signed by the president in a week and a half," he said.

Unofficial official congressional results

Official vote-canvassing has been completed in the 14 counties in the 13th Congressional District and the results — which will be formally "proclaimed" by the State Board of Elections on Sunday — show that Rodney Davis beat Democrat David Gill by 1,002 votes out of 294,385 votes cast. On a percentage basis Davis had 46.54 percent to 46.2 percent for Gill and 7.24 percent for independent John Hartman.

Since Election Day, Gill gained 285 votes on Davis as late absentee and provisional votes were counted. But he still fell short, winning only the more urban counties of Champaign, Sangamon and McLean. But he lost in two other urban counties, Macon and Madison.

Davis vote comparison

The only counties that are completely in Davis' 13th District and Johnson's old 15th District are Piatt and DeWitt counties. A comparison of Davis' first run this year and Johnson's in 2000 shows they had similar success. It's worth noting that Davis was in a three-way race this year while Johnson had just one opponent in 2000, Democrat Mike Kelleher.

In 2000 Johnson got 61.49 percent in Piatt County to Davis' 58.93 percent this year.

In DeWitt County Johnson got 57.3 percent in 2000 to Davis' 55.7 percent this year.

Champaign and Urbana, of course, were in the old 15th and are in the new 13th, but a comparison isn't as telling since Johnson, who already had been a state representative for more than 20 years and grew up in Urbana, was well-known here in 2000. But here goes anyway: Johnson got 44.88 percent in Champaign and 38.09 percent in Urbana in 2000 to Davis' 34.36 percent in Champaign and 20.79 percent in Urbana this year.

Fraker and Lincoln

Guy Fraker, the Bloomington attorney who recently authored the first book about Abraham Lincoln and Illinois' Eighth Judicial Circuit, will be in the area a number of times over the coming months for presentations and book signings.

Fraker's book is called "Lincoln's Ladder to the Presidency: The Eighth Judicial Circuit," and costs $34.95. It is published by Southern Illinois University Press.

He will do book signings and programs at 7 p.m. today at the Edgar County Historical Society in Paris, and at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Urbana Free Library. He also will speak Dec. 20 at the Champaign-Urbana Civil War Roundtable, and on March 3 at the Museum of the Grand Prairie at Lake of the Woods Park in Mahomet.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at