RACINE — Passing tax reform has become a major priority for the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress, but according to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, the process of passing legislation is “picking winners and losers.”

“We haven’t seen (a tax reform bill) yet, so I’m not going to be critical of it,” Johnson said. “We have an opportunity here to really rationalize and simplify the tax code. I’m afraid we’re not going to do that … it’s what we’re hearing.”

Johnson spoke to a joint group of members of the Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce and the Kenosha Area Chamber of Commerce on Friday at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, touching on taxes, immigration, partisanship and North Korea.

After the event Johnson spoke to The Journal Times editorial board to elaborate more on what’s going on in Washington, D.C., and the work he’s doing.

Johnson said he’s been working on a bill that would change how the corporate tax is paid for and added that some of his Democratic colleagues and President Donald Trump are “intrigued” by the idea.

Part of his plan, Johnson said, would prevent companies from “hoarding cash” and instead put pressure on corporations to distribute earnings to its employees.

“If you tax business income, all of it, at the ownership level, it is more beneficial for individuals with low income to hold stock,” Johnson said. “Have the owners pay at the progressive individual tax rate.”

However, Johnson said he’s been frustrated with how tax reform is being put together.

“To be quite honest, my concepts haven’t been acted on or taken seriously,” Johnson said.

Fixing the Affordable

Care Act

One area where Johnson said the Senate has “failed” has been on health care.

Johnson said he’s never completely advocated for “repeal and replace” of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and instead wants to fix parts that aren’t working well.

“What we should have focused on ... is the damage that’s been done by Obamacare and fix it,” Johnson said. “Repair the damage and transition to a system that actually works.”

Johnson said he’s been evaluating how to improve cost saving reductions (CSR) and health savings accounts (HSA) within the law.

“I’m very close on a bill that hopefully the House can pass, that can be accepted by House members — Republicans — to fund CSRs,” Johnson said. “We would allow HSAs to be used to purchase expanded health insurance options, catastrophic care plans for everybody … let’s address some of these problems and we’ll fix the botched writing job under Obamacare for CSRs and help us restrain the growth of premiums.”

Johnson said he is “pretty close to getting some notable conservatives in the House,” on board with his health care plan.

Helping Puerto Rico

After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Johnson went down to the island to get a firsthand look at the damage that was done.

“The main problem is power,” Johnson said. “It’s going to take some time to set up what was already a very frail electrical system.”

Johnson said he was relieved that the property damage was minimal and the roads “from what we could tell were clear,” but “you’re not going to see 100 percent power restored for months.”

“The federal government is doing everything it possibly can to get crews in there and start reestablishing (power),” Johnson said. “But establishing an electrical grid is not easy … it’s a very complex problem.”

Unlike hurricanes that hit Texas and Florida, getting supplies and personnel to Puerto Rico is made more difficult because of its location.

“Trump was just savaged for saying ‘There’s an ocean,’” Johnson said of Trump’s remarks about getting aid to the island. “It’s true. It’s more difficult, you can’t just get in a truck. You have to transfer (aid) either by boat or cargo plane … FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has brought everything down there that they can get down there.”

Immigration reform

With only a few more months left before Trump’s March 5 deadline to Congress to come up with a solution for recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Johnson said he’s confident something will get done.

Johnson said Congress is doing a lot of work to address the situation with DACA recipients, but a solution must include provisions for border security such as technology, personnel and “better barriers in the right places.”

Over the years hundreds of children have come up from Central America, and Johnson said immigration reform must “stop the flow” of those children and end incentives for people to come to the U.S. illegally.

However, reports of violence in countries like El Salvador have caused many parents to send their children north, which Johnson calls “push factors.”

“In those cases we ought to set up asylum centers in those countries and adjudicate it there, and let people come in legally as asylums, not flaunter our laws,” Johnson said.

Although many people might think members of the opposite parties don’t like each other or agree on anything, Johnson said there are many issues where both sides agree on the goals, but their proposed solutions are different.

“Congress is a very collegial place, we respect each other,” Johnson said. “We’re not fighting like cats and dogs … leadership that emphasizes those shared purposes and goals would be helpful. And we haven’t had any on either side of the aisle, quite frankly.”

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Reporter

Ricardo Torres covers federal, state and Racine County politics along with the Village of Mount Pleasant. He bleeds Wisconsin sports teams.

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