Johnson gives up on threat to hold Senate business to a stand still

After a dramatic standoff on the Senate floor that consumed much of Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) backed off from his threat to freeze Senate operations.

Throughout the afternoon, the freshman senator camped out on the Senate floor to uphold his threat to block all requests unless the Democratic leadership promised him they would immediately bring to the floor a budget plan for fiscal 2012.

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“The Senate runs on something called unanimous consent,” Johnson said. “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. I will begin to withhold my consent.”

Shortly after making these comments, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) came down to the floor and requested unanimous consent to speak. In a surprise breach of Senate protocol, Johnson objected. It was a bold move considering that Sessions is the senior member of the Senate Budget Committee, on which Johnson is a junior member.

The rebuff shocked Senate insiders. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) immediately approached Johnson and gave him a lecture, which could not be overheard from the visitors gallery.

Senators often request unanimous consent to proceed with routine business. Granting it is a common courtesy to avoid spending excess time following the Senate’s arcane and exhaustive rules.

If Johnson or any other senator routinely objects to basic unanimous consent requests, it would dramatically slow the pace of legislative business.  

Johnson finally dropped his threat late Tuesday evening after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) successfully passed a resolution to which Johnson was unable to object. It commanded the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms to request the presence of all senators in the chamber.  

With most senators present, Johnson finally allowed Reid to go forward with a unanimous consent to schedule votes for Wednesday.

“It is certainly not addressing the primary problem facing our nation today,” Johnson said, referring to the amendments called up by Reid. “We need to start actually addressing that in the United States Senate, but I realize the managers have worked hard on this bill.“

In his maiden speech delivered before the Senate in March, Johnson hinted that drastic measures would need to be taken in order to obtain deficit reduction.

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“Time is running out," he warned at the time.  “Our debt and deficits are measured in the trillions. Our problem is a thousand times larger than the current debate.”

"Most of us recognize this is simply unsustainable," he added. "Most of us know what programs need to be reformed. And most of us want to fix the problem. So, let’s start addressing these issues now, before it is too late."

In that first speech, Johnson recalled a time when debate in the Senate was unlimited.

"The cloture vote did not exist," he said. "As George Washington had said, the Senate really was the saucer that cooled the tea.”

Before leaving the floor on Tuesday, Johnson said he would use similar tactics in the future if Democrats do not begin to address the deficit in a significant way.

"Tonight I'll leave this floor, but unless the Senate gets serious about taking on the No. 1 problem facing this nation, I will be back," Johnson said. "I will exercise my full rights and I will do everything in my power to prevent the bankrupting of America."

-- This story was originally posted at 3:14 p.m. and updated at 7:34 p.m.


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