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GOP senator stops bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) claimed the new holiday would come at the expense of the American taxpayer, suggesting federal employee's lose a day of paid leave.

WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Ron Johnson has stopped a bill in the U.S. Senate, designating Juneteenth as a national holiday, from advancing citing "costs to the American taxpayer."

The Wisconsin senator argued that the paid holiday would cost taxpayers "up to $600 million a year" to pay federal employees. Instead, he proposed an amendment to the original bill which would take away one of the federal employee's days of paid leave.

"I object to the fact that by naming it a national holiday, what they're leaving out of their argument, the main impact of that is it gives federal workers a paid day off that the rest of Americans have to pay for," Johnson said from the Senate floor Wednesday. 

Johnson often takes hardline stances on government spending and has repeatedly cited the growing $26.5 trillion debt of the U.S. government.

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The original bill was introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) alongside Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and has gained the bipartisan support of 54 cosponsors looking to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. 

Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day among other names, commemorates the end of U.S. slavery. The name is a combination of the date, June 19, when a Union general told the last remaining enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation issued two years before.

The push for governments to officially recognize Juneteenth has gained momentum since protests against racial injustice began nationwide last month after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

"This is a thoroughly bipartisan effort. It's long overdue," Markey said from the Senate floor. Markey than asked for unanimous consent used to set aside specific procedure and expedite proceedings without the objection of any senator, to advance the bill. 

While Sen. Johnson agreed with the merits of the bill, he proposed his paid leave amendment, which Markey ultimately rejected.

"I am happy to celebrate Juneteenth. I think we should celebrate that fact that we did remove in a original sin by emancipating the slaves. That is day of celebration. I agree with that. I simply don't believe we should make the American taxpayers in the private sector pony up $600 million a year."

Credit: AP
Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., speaks as the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee meets on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 20, 2020.