While some members of Congress still attempt to unscramble all the details of the six-month spending deal struck by leadership last week, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said he’s already steeling himself for the next big debate.

“This whole CR skirmish — and that’s about all it is — is just setting us up for what I think is the really big fight and that’s over the debt ceiling,” Johnson said yesterday at The Bloggers Briefing.

Speaking at Heritage shortly before his maiden Senate speech, the freshman senator from Oshkosh said the upcoming discussion about the debt ceiling offers spending-conscious members of Congress an unparalleled opportunity to negotiate major cuts and necessary spending caps.

“I think our maximum of leverage really is around that debt ceiling,” he said. “The Democrats in the Senate … they’re going to be forced to vote for that debt ceiling increase or they’re going to shut the government down. The only way they’re going to get support from the Republicans like me is if they establish those hard spending caps.”

Known for his business background and private-sector perspective, Johnson prides himself on his true status as a “citizen-legislator.” He said the president’s weak position throughout the spending debate has evoked a certain realism in him.

“If we had a president right now who was leading,” he said, “we could maybe accomplish something in the next year and a half. I haven’t seen that. I’m not necessarily confident that’s going to happen. So, unfortunately, unless we get enough Senate Democrats to go along with us to establish hard spending caps, this is going to be kicked down to the 2012 election and that’s what that election is going to be about.”

Johnson personally favors a constitutional amendment to limit the size of spending in relation to GDP, in addition to a statute to do the same. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) has introduced such an amendment, while Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) has proposed legislation to statutorily reduce spending.

But whatever the mechanism, Johnson said, spending caps are essential to solve the debt problem — the big picture that most preoccupies Johnson.

“The absolute first step has to be establishing that hard spending cap,” he said. “To me, deficits, out-of-control spending, high unemployment, a sluggish economy — those are all symptoms of the root cause. To me, the root cause absolutely is the size, the scope — I’m talking about all the things the government is involved in that it never should have gotten involved in, all the regulatory overreach — and the cost of government. I’m looking for hard spending caps that actually address and attack that root cause.”