URBANA — In perhaps his strongest statement yet on the topic, retiring U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, said Monday that Congress must look at both revenue increases and spending cuts in order to fix the federal budget.
Johnson made his remarks at a town hall meeting at Urbana Middle School, a place he noted he graduated from in 1961 when it was known at Urbana Junior High School. Johnson is not running for re-election in November and will retire from Congress next Jan. 3.
"I think it's time for us to say that as unpleasant as this may sound, dealing with a nearly $17 trillion debt, while it's overwhelmingly a spending issue, it's partly a revenue issue," he said. "And various tax credits, loopholes, deductions and maybe some of the tax cuts have got to be re-examined in light of the fact that we've got a huge national debt.
"If we're going to ask people who have services to their children who are disabled, and seniors who have services and VA services, to share sacrifice — and we do, we have to ask them to share — then I don't think we can also say that we're going to be close-minded to revenue increases. If that means saying to Grover Norquist (head of the anti-tax Americans for Tax Reform) that you'd better re-examine your priorities too, then that's what I'm going to say to him."
Johnson had suggested in the past that revenue increases should be on the table in budget discussions, but never with the intensity that he showed Monday.
"I'll tell you why," he said, "because we're not going to get this issue solved without dealing with both sides of the aisle. And Democrats are convinced that we need to raise revenues. Republicans are convinced that we need to cut spending. And while I tend to agree that it's more a spending issue, if we're going to get any bipartisan support we've got to understand that Democrats aren't going to support us unless we give a little too. If we're not all willing to share in the issue, if we're not all willing to share in the sacrifice, we're not going to get the job done."
Johnson admitted, though, that few Capitol Hill politicians are saying what he said.
The Urbana native prefaced his remarks at the town hall meeting by saying that his comments would "probably alienate everyone in this room, including my staff."
"We can't expect to solve the problem simply by asking cuts to be made. Everybody in this room is going to have to share in the sacrifices necessary to deal with the debt, including taxpayers who make a lot of money. Am I philosophically enthralled with the idea of a confiscatory tax system? No I am not because I don't think that is what America is all about. But the reality is we've got to raise more revenue."
Johnson also reiterated support for a number of environmental issues, including opposition to a hazardous waste landfill in DeWitt County that would be located over the Mahomet Aquifer that provides drinking water to a number of central Illinois communities.
"I don't believe that economic growth is inconsistent with clean air and clean water, and I don't think we have to throw away our national heritage in order to progress economically," he said. "I don't think we have to allow the Mahomet Aquifer to be infringed, as they are proposing to do in Clinton, to be able to have economic progress."
Johnson promised to continue to serve as a full-time congressman, even as his term runs out over the next six months. But he again lashed out at Congress' dysfunctionality.
"Clearly what we're doing now is not working out as well as it should be," he said. "Come January 3rd, I'm just going to be able to go to someone else's town meetings and say, 'Why don't you get this damned government figured out?' It'll be kind of nice to turn the table."
He joked that once he retires he'll become just another frustrated taxpayer.
"You don't want to be around me on January 4th. I'll be like a time bomb. It's 44 years of pent-up frustration. The first person who gives me a hard time on January 4th, it's going to be a long night for that guy, I'll tell you," he said to laughter.