Restaurant owner and chef Dave Heide
Restaurant owner and chef Dave Heide sautees mushrooms. Heide uses his kitchen to make and deliver food for families with food insecurities during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo © Andy Manis)

Tammy Baldwin voted to reauthorize the pandemic relief program for small businesses that would have also helped theaters, gyms, sports and other live event venues.

Small business owners who belong to the Wisconsin Main Street Alliance group watched their grassroots lobbying effort in Washington, DC fall short Thursday, as Sen. Ron Johnson and most other Republicans voted not to take up a pandemic relief bill that would have allowed the Restaurant Revitalization Fund to continue operation.

Fifty-two senators—including five Republicans– voted to begin debate on the bill, but fell short of the 60 votes required to overcome a Republican filibuster.

Tuesday’s defeat likely spells the end for the the bill, which passed the House last month. The proposal called for an additional $40 billion for the restaurant fund, which quickly ran out of funds when it was first created in March 2021 as part of President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan. The Small Business Administration (SBA) could only fund 101,000 of the 278,000 requests for financial help—and about 3,000 Wisconsin restaurants were among those left out and left hoping for additional funding.

Among the restaurateurs who came to the nation’s capital to seek Johnson’s support was Dave Heide, owner of several Madison area restaurants and a recent recipient of national recognition from the SBA.

“When he [Johnson] was coming to say how grateful he was for me winning the small business person of the year from Wisconsin, all we could talk about was how much he loved small business and appreciated it,” Heide said on Wednesday. “And this is his chance to actually show it with his vote.”

Dan Jacobs, owner of three Milwaukee area restaurants said Johnson’s support would have helped “save the jobs of 3,000-plus restaurants in the state of Wisconsin.”

Not replenishing the fund means “there will not be a lot of restaurants left to go back to when this is over,” said Evan Dannells, owner of Cadre Restaurant in Madison.

“Sen. Johnson loves to talk about his support for Wisconsin small businesses, and today he had the opportunity to quite literally put his money where his mouth is,” said Meghan Roh, program director for the progressive group Opportunity Wisconsin. “Instead, Johnson chose to block a bill that would have helped protect over 288,000 jobs and nearly 13,000 small businesses across the Badger State. This, unfortunately, does not come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. Just last week, Sen. Johnson even proclaimed he was ‘not that fond of restaurants.’”

Johnson made the comment in a recent interview with Iranian Americans for Liberty. When asked who he would have dinner with if he could pick any two individuals—living or dead—Johnson chose George Washington and right-wing economist Milton Friedman. He was also asked where the dinner would take place and Johnson said it wouldn’t be at a restaurant.

“Probably my house. I’d grill ‘em up some steaks,” he said. “I’m not that fond of restaurants.”