Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) ground the Senate to a halt on Tuesday, threatening to block “business as usual” until Democrats submit a budget.
Johnson began his broadside by objecting to a quorum call, blocking the Senate from proceeding with a vote. Quorum calls, like many basic Senate procedures, are approved by unanimous consent and Johnson threatened in a floor speech to wreak havoc on these uncontroversial motions.
“Business as usual is bankrupting America,” he said in a floor speech. “It must stop.”
Elaborating on his scheme, Johnson warned that “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.”
The move draws attention to Johnson right as he is fending off serious ethical questions surrounding a $10 million compensation package from his old company.
A spokesman for Harry Reid, Adam Jentleson, accused Johnson of derailing Senate efforts to shore up the economy.
“Republicans have it backwards,” he told TPM. “Instead of finding new ways to block jobs bills, they should be working with us to create jobs and get our economy back on track.”
Johnson will have to remain on the floor to make good on his threat and it’s not yet clear whether he has more lawmakers helping him out. He was reportedly spotted talking with Rand Paul and Jim DeMint on the Senate floor after his announcement, two Tea Party lawmakers known for tying the Senate in knots with filibusters and other procedural roadblocks.
Sarah Binder, a George Washington University professor and expert on Senate procedure, told TPM that Democrats would have few good options in dealing with Johnson.
“A single senator can make a mess of the Senate by following through on a threat to object everything,” Binder said. “Because so much of the Senate’s business is conducted by unanimous consent, the place would grind to a halt if Sen. Johnson actually carried through.”
Majority Leader Harry Reid could offer up popular bills and dare him to block them or try to call his bluff by forcing a cloture vote, a cumbersome and lengthy procedure. But as per Johnson’s threat, “business as usual” is an impossibility unless he can be convinced to stand down.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.