Reid Brings Freshman’s Filibuster to Swift End

Posted June 28, 2011 at 7:45pm

Updated: 8:50 p.m.

Sen. Ron Johnson may be new to town, but on Tuesday he channeled his freshman vigor via the most old-school of approaches: a traditional filibuster.

It didn’t last long, though.

The Wisconsin Republican took to the floor Tuesday afternoon to protest Congress’ failure to approve a budget, dismissing President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats as “unserious” and “business as usual,” and to say that he wouldn’t concede the floor until the Senate brought forth a budget.

Johnson even blocked the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, from speaking about an hour into his one-man stand.

But by 6 p.m., Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) dug into his procedural bag of tricks, holding a vote on a motion to instruct the Sergeant-at-Arms to request the attendance of all Senators. Johnson’s filibuster revolved around his objection to the relinquishing of a quorum call, but Reid’s vote demonstrated that a quorum was established and essentially overrode Johnson’s effort. The chamber then adjourned for the night.

Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.) and Richard Shelby (Ala.) were the only Republicans to vote with Democrats in support of the motion. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) thanked Johnson “for making an excellent point” following the procedural vote to end his hold on the floor.

Johnson began the afternoon with grand ambitions.

“Unless we receive some assurance from the Democrat leadership that we will actually start addressing our budget out in the open, in the bright light of day, I will begin to object,” Johnson said in his initial remarks on the floor. “The American people deserve to be told the truth. Unless that happens, I will begin to withhold my consent.”

Johnson’s unusual move is the latest development in the Republican push to pressure Democrats on the budget. At the end of last week, the GOP negotiators in a bipartisan group led by Vice President Joseph Biden dropped out of talks to reduce the deficit and raise the debt ceiling. With the Treasury Department estimating that Aug. 2 will be the deadline to raise the debt limit to avoid government default, the president is expected to quickly work out a deal with Congressional leaders.

Yet Johnson decried this process as “a few people talking behind closed doors” and detrimental to a nationwide debate on the government’s burgeoning debt.

Instead, the freshman Republican, a Member with little negotiating clout but all the power in the world if he holds up the Senate floor, offered his own solution.

“So let me start the process by throwing out a number: $2.6 trillion. This is $800 billion more than we spent just 10 years ago. That is the amount that President Obama, in his budget, says the federal government will receive in revenue next year,” Johnson said. “If we only spent that amount of money, we would be living within our means. What a concept, huh?”