After serving 12 years in the U.S. House and in two federal cabinet positions, Rob Portman thought he was done with politics. But then U.S. Sen. George Voinovich retired and Portman successfully ran for his position. As the junior senator from Ohio, the Republican finds himself representing Ohioans during what he calls “difficult times.”
“My goal is to put partisanship aside and focus on what’s best for the people. Right now we have a lot of problems,” he said during a recent Town Hall Ohio radio show where he talked about his career and the challenges that the United States faces today.
Portman comes from a small business background, which has made him more aware of the struggles that many farmers face in Ohio. He criticized the federal government for making it harder for farmers to be successful, citing higher taxes, stricter regulations and lack of movement on vital trade policies. “Scary” is how he described U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposals on dust, air, water, pesticides and carbon dioxide emissions.
“Farmers are some of the best entrepreneurs anywhere. They’re used to ups and downs. The last thing farmers want is the federal government to make it harder for them,” he said.
During the Ohio Farm Bureau radio show, OFBF Executive Vice President Jack Fisher praised the senator for his long-standing support of small businesses. Portman’s interest is personal. Turned down for a bank loan, Portman’s father had to borrow money from a relative to start his forklift dealership in Cincinnati. The business grew from five employees to more than 300. Portman’s family also has been owner of the Golden Lamb Inn, Ohio’s oldest hotel, since 1926.
Portman said there’s a lot of uncertainty in Congress about the individual income tax and capital gains tax, making it difficult for small businesses to plan their future. Because the current Congress and President Obama did not deal with the death tax, he said the tax could come back in two years and be worse than it was 10 years ago.
“The situation is very tough for farmers because they can’t plan. They don’t know whether they will be able to pass on their small business, which is the farm, to their kids and grandkids,” he said.
“I thought it was really effective. Farmers were there from all over Ohio and were able to tell their representatives directly what their concerns were,” he said.
One of the keys to getting the U.S. economy going is to take away the uncertainty and give people clear rules that are in favor of jobs and growth, he said. He criticized the amount of control that federal regulators have today, saying that over time the power has shifted from the legislative branch to regulators.
“Congress passes big pieces of legislation and leaves tremendous authority with regulators,” he said, pointing out that more than 500 new rulemakings are in the works.
Other ways to stimulate the economy are to lower the cost of health care while maintaining its quality, do away with frivolous lawsuits, allow small businesses to pool together to buy insurance and have health savings accounts that are tax free and can be rolled over year to year, he said.
Portman, who is a former U.S. trade representative, said he is “really frustrated” by the United States’ lack of movement on foreign trade policies, including those in Colombia, South Korea and Panama.
“If trade is done right, it increases American jobs,” he said. “We’re losing jobs here in this country because (other countries) are now buying corn, soybeans, pork, beef and poultry from other countries. We have the best farmers in the world here and the best farmland in the world. We’re the most productive farmers in the world. We just want a fair shake.”