U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson found himself in the national spotlight Thursday for being one of only three senators to vote against the bipartisan bill to ensure medical coverage for neglected vets.
Johnson is sharing the distinction with fellow tea partiers Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Bob Corker of Tennessee.
"Keep in mind, these three Republicans knew the bill would pass easily, but voted against it to make a statement — they’re concerned about helping veterans, but they’re really concerned about the deficit (which is shrinking quickly) and spending levels (which have been stagnant)," writes Steve Benen on MSNBC's Maddowblog.
Being the only three lawmakers in all of Washington to oppose the bill, their names appeared in nearly every news account of the proposed legislation on Thursday.
State Democrats were quick to pounce.
"Tea Party embarrassment Ron Johnson is so blinded by his devotion to a radical, Ayn Rand-ian brand of extremism that he cast one of only three votes against a measure to help veterans get the health care they need and deserve," said Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairman Mike Tate in a statement.
He said the name recognition Johnson earned with the vote won't help him in the next election.
"To be sure, votes like this exemplify why Wisconsin will return Ron Johnson's seat to capable Democratic hands in 2016," Tate said. "But until that time comes, we can only hope Johnson fades back into obscurity rambling about sunspots and Googling birth control."
Johnson maintained that he supports efforts to help veterans gain medical care.
"This legislation doesn’t fix the systemic problems or ensure our veterans get quality, on-time health care. It does spend more money to expand a broken system,” he said in a press release explaining his vote. “Our veterans deserve better than this bill provides.”
The bill is the legislative response to reports that thousands of veterans were forced to endure months-long wait times for care — some of whom died while languishing — with some hospitals falsifying records to cover up the situation. The bill would let veterans who live more that 40 miles from a VA care facility or who can't get a timely appointment go to any Medicare provider for treatment. It would also give the VA $500 million to hire more doctors and nurses.
Support for the bill belied the chronic gridlock that has come to define Washington politics. The House on Tuesday unanimously passed a similar bill.
In his statement, Johnson said he was an original co-sponsor of the bill. But he said the bill he supported wasn't the one that was up for a vote.
"[I]nstead of taking the time to thoughtfully consider all the ramifications, (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid rushed a different bill onto the floor of the Senate without even an estimate of its cost," he said. "Less than 30 minutes before the vote, the CBO, Congress’ nonpartisan accountants, provided a preliminary, partial estimate showing this bill would add another $35 billion to the VA budget in just the first two and a quarter years, and $50 billion per year after that."
Johnson found some support for his position on his Facebook page.
"Are you the only one in congress that knows were broke?" reads one comment. "Thank you for your common sense."
But the supporters were vastly outnumbered by the enraged.
"You voted against this bill!" reads one comment. "What is the matter with you? Your party jumps into useless wars, then will not help our veterans! You are a useless waste of our taxpayer money!! I can not wait to support your opponent in 2016! You will be a one term Senator. Thank God!!!"