November 28, 2011
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Jack Torry from The Columbus Dispatch featured a piece over the weekend highlighting Senator Rob Portman’s (R-Ohio) hard work and frustration in the Deficit Reduction Committee’s inability to reach a deal to reduce Washington’s debt. The piece highlights multiple efforts by Portman to reach across the aisle.
Article is included below. Link to the actual article can be found here.
The Columbus Dispatch
Golden Opportunity Wasted When Supercommittee Failed
By Jack Torry
November 27, 2011
As he met with about 20 reporters the night the bipartisan supercommittee collapsed last week, Sen. Rob Portman was clearly frustrated. As one of the 12 panel members, he had been the optimistic one, convinced they could agree on a compromise that would reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion during the next decade.
“I felt that given the crisis that we could figure out a way to come together,” said Portman, R-Ohio. Then he added, “I was wrong.”
For Portman, the panel’s failure was the dreary culmination of weeks of intense work. Portman, who served as budget director under former President George W. Bush, took this job seriously.
He canceled most of his regular appointments. He worked long hours, both during the week and on weekends. He said he had “never spent so much time in Washington even when (he) was in the cabinet.”
His longtime political advisers had warned him from the beginning to stay away from serving on the committee. One Senate colleague told him the whole process would be “akin to a root canal.”
Their fears were obvious: If the committee succeeded, Portman would have had to sign off on a tax increase that would infuriate conservatives. If the committee failed, Portman — along with the rest of the panel — would be accused of not being able to govern.
But Portman, along with committee member Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., saw a rare opportunity for a grand bargain, one that would reduce the deficit by as much as $4 trillion during the next decade while simultaneously reforming the income tax code to make it simpler and more efficient.
Why? Because the law establishing the supercommittee handed panel members broad authority to sidestep legislative minefields.
Whatever the committee produced would be guaranteed a floor vote in both the House and Senate. Forty-one senators could not block the bill with a filibuster, meaning a simple majority of 51 could pass the measure instead of the 60 needed to break filibuster.
“This was a special opportunity,” said one former Republican congressional staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity. “There were members who did yeoman’s work in trying to bridge that gap, and a member from your state was among them. He was among the leaders trying to forge an agreement.
“What is disheartening is you had this ability to do something big,” the Republican said. “That’s going to go by the boards. Now imagine having to do significant tax reform when you have to get 60 votes.”
There was hope among Republicans that they could craft a package that could win the votes of two Democrats: Kerry and Sen. Max Baucus of Montana.
But in the end, the committee split apart over taxes and the entitlement programs of Social Security and Medicare.
Portman acknowledged that Democrats “put entitlements on the table. They did, and I give them credit for that.” But he said the price for curbing the costs of entitlements was to increase taxes by $1 trillion during the next decade.
To Republicans, raising taxes by that much was out of the question. To Democrats, it was not realistic to reduce the deficit through spending cuts alone.
As he chatted with reporters late Monday afternoon, Portman kept touching on the theme that Congress missed a chance. “I am very sad about this process not succeeding because it was a unique opportunity to both address the fiscal crisis and give the economy a shot in the arm,” he said.
When asked if he hurt himself politically by being on the committee, Portman quietly replied, “I have no idea.”
Portman won’t suffer lasting damage. He remains a possible vice presidential running mate next year.
“I knew when this thing was announced that Rob would want to be put on it, because Rob has the skills and reputation to work on the toughest issues in Washington and forge a bipartisan solution,” said Kevin DeWine, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party. “He worked in good faith to find common ground. I think it’s a plus.”