Republican Ohio Senator Rob Portman tested yogurt flavors, talked to small business owners and sat down with The Lima News Friday to talk about his balancing the federal budget, his potential vice president status, unemployment figures and health care during his visit to Lima.
Portman visited the Dannon Co. Yogurt Plant in Minster Friday, where he toured the plant, talked to employees and test-tasted a few of the yogurt products.
"My favorite was the peach," Portman said, laughing. "I liked the Greek yogurt I tried too."
Soon after he visited Crown Equipment Corp. in New Bremen and Buschur Electric in Minster. He also held a business round table in Minster, where many business professionals expressed their concerns, hoping for them to be echoed in Washington.
Portman said the issue of national debt was one he did not expect to even come up at the round table, but the issue quickly became the hot topic.
"They brought this up in this round table without me even soliciting that input," he said. "I was expecting them to talk about the regulations that affect them and their tax rates, the cost of health care."
Balancing the budget
"You guys made the mistake of having a whiteboard in here," Portman said during his meeting with The Lima News Friday.
The Ohio Senator got up during the meeting and drew a pie chart, demonstrating what needs to be done in order to balance the budget and what the budget spending is currently comprised of.
"It seems like it's the most predictable economic crisis we've ever faced," he said. "At some point, this house of cards could come crashing down."
Portman said Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the interest on the national deficit currently represent 62 percent of our spending. The rest of the spending is dedicated toward defense and discretionary spending.
"Under the president's budget, over 10 years, this goes from 62 percent to 78," Portman said. "People say we can't touch Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, but this interest on the debt is extremely low now, but if it goes up just one percent, it could just sink us."
Portman said he suggested the government restrain the spending on these programs and reform taxes to balance the budget.
"Both tax reforms are needed and spending restraint that's needed," Portman said. "Which means reforming these important entitlement programs. It has to be done in order to save the programs themselves and in order to get the country on fiscal footing that's sustainable over time."
These tax reforms include getting rid of exemptions, credits, deductions and lowering the marginal rate to see more revenue coming in for both corporations and individuals.
"The top 20 percent of taxpayers pay 94 percent of the taxes now," Portman said.
Mum on VP potential
Portman still remained silent on whether he would be joining Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's election campaign as the vice presidential candidate.
"I'm fortunate to be where I am," Portman said. "I just don't talk about it. I'll leave it up to the campaign to do that. But I do support Mitt Romney. I do think he'll look to the next generation and not just to the next election."
He also said he thinks Romney has "some great choices" for his potential vice presidential running-mate.
"Look, I know all these people who are on various lists," Portman said. "And Governor Romney has some great choices. They're all really strong."
Unemployment figures discouraging
Although Ohio's unemployment rate dropped from 7.3 percent to 7.2 percent, Portman is still very discouraged at the number of Ohioans and Americans without jobs.
"It's still really high and if the same number of people were in the workforce today as were in the workforce three and a half years ago when President Obama was sworn in, the Ohio unemployment number would be over 10 percent," Portman said. "That's why a lot of people are saying the published rates are not as high as the actual rates."
He also said consumer confidence numbers are at an all-time low, and underemployment numbers continue to increase. Manufacturing was also the lowest its been since the month after the recession hit, he said.
Impact of health care reform
Portman said Obama's Affordable Health Care Act has inadvertently inconvenienced a lot of business owners. One man, Portman said, told him "Health care is the reason I'm not hiring."
The man said he would rather pay his employees overtime instead of hiring new employees at the cost of providing them health care, Portman said.
"I'm not saying our health care system doesn't need to be reformed. It does," Portman said. "I think one of the challenges for those who oppose it, and I do, is to be sure and let people know that we're not talking about the status quo."
During last November, 66 percent of all Ohioans who voted did not favor the Affordable Health Care Act , Portman said.
"There is an economic impact in all of this," Portman said.
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