URBANA — Retiring U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, said Thursday that he believes he has cast his last vote as a congressman.
He doesn't think he'll be going back to the Capitol to vote on a plan to avert the "fiscal cliff."
"The whole slope or cliff or whatever it is, is a creation of the Congress and another indication of the dysfunctionality and the sort of thing that I've been outraged about there for 12 years," said Johnson, whose six-term tenure as a congressman ends Thursday. "I've expressed it to the whole leadership, to all of them. I can't speak for others, but I would assume that others have expressed the same attitude.
"I was prepared a week ago to cast a vote to at least try to resolve the impasse, but nothing happened."
"Now, every indication is that the logistics are such that there's no realistic chance that anything is going to get done. I think that's sad."
On Thursday afternoon, House Speaker John Boehner called the House back for votes on Sunday, but Johnson spokesman Phil Bloomer said that likely would be perfunctory, and that Johnson probably would not attend.
The congressman earlier predicted that the House would be called into session to vote on "a (Hurricane) Sandy supplemental (appropriation) or a dairy program or whatever."
"I would think it's fairly likely that on Sunday or Monday — for what they call optics, how it looks — they would call the House or Senate into session and cast some votes for appearance's sake," Johnson said. "I would think you might have a certain number of East Coast or Midwestern legislators who are on call. You might be able to (pass something) by unanimous consent with as few as two people there, as long as no one objects."
Logistically, he said it would be difficult for him and other retiring lawmakers to return to Washington for a multi-day session to take on the fiscal cliff issue.
"The reality is that it would be virtually impossible for me to go out now anyway," he said. "The schedule said we were supposed to be over two weeks ago. So my apartment lease has run out and everything has been moved out. There's nothing there. They moved us out of our office. We have no office, just a little cubicle along with the other outgoing people, in the Rayburn Building. It's basically non-functional. I essentially have no staff there. Our office here (in Champaign) is basically closed. So my expectation is that I've cast my last vote."
Johnson announced last April that he would not run for a seventh term. Much of his old 15th Congressional District, including Champaign-Urbana, will move into the new 13th District represented by Taylorville Republican Rodney Davis. He is sworn in Jan. 3.
Although Johnson lamented Congress' apparent failure to address the fiscal cliff issues of tax increases and deep spending cuts, he said he didn't think the economic results would be significant.
"I don't think there will be nearly the fallout that the pundits believe there will be," he said. "There will be some effects. I don't think they will be catastrophic. I think the markets have built most of this in already. A majority of it we've already seen, and a lot of it has been exaggerated."
The new Congress should be able to undo some of the more drastic effects of the budget and tax measures, Johnson said.
"I think the new Congress will be able to nuance and amend some of those automatic cuts that will go into effect, the way we should have done it to begin with," he said. "This whole impasse is not all bad because one of the results is that you will get some forced budget cuts that should have been made and will be made. It's going to force fiscal accountability on our body politic. And that's a good thing.
"In terms of revenue and the debt — at least for a temporary period — it's going to positively impact our national debt. I'm not suggesting I support all of those things. In fact in order to regenerate the economy the worst thing you can do is raise taxes. But there are more than a few silver linings to this."
The next Congress "can act and probably take actions that they can make retroactive," he said. "My guess is that something will get done in the January-February time period."
Johnson said Congress will get blamed for the lack of a fiscal cliff compromise "although President Obama is far from free for complicity in all of this.
"I think it's disingenuous for the president to say that we, the Republican caucus, have been unwilling to deal with him. It's a two-way street. The Senate and the House and the president have all indicated to me that there is an overall partisanship and division in Washington that doesn't serve the interests of the country very well.
"Maybe my voice hasn't been as loud as it should have been. I've expressed myself vociferously. I indicated to the leaders — I remember this was before Thanksgiving — that we needed to get this thing done. But we've done nothing since the election. I have written letters, telling them what I thought should be done. I assume other members did too. The system didn't respond and this is the result."
All government is failing its citizens, Johnson said.
"I would like to be able to say that the last act we took was for some positive things for America. But I can't say that," said the 66-year-old Johnson, who is ending a 41-year career as an elected official. "I also cannot say that I am positive about the future of this country or about Western civilization. When I was first in politics, I'd ask people at a town meeting how many people think their children and grandchildren will have a better life than we do. Virtually everyone would raise their hand. When I ask the same question now at town meetings, for the last six or seven years, out of an audience of 100 you might get one person who thinks there are better days ahead. Most everyone thinks our better days have come and gone."