Rep. Portman '79 defends GOP actions
U.S. Representative Robert Portman '79, R-Ohio, explained the actions of the mostly Republican Congress in a speech last night at the Rockefeller Center for the Social Science.
About 30 people attended Portman's presentation, titled "Presidential Politics and The Republican Revolution."
Portman said the current state of affairs in Washington, D.C., is hectic, since three closely linked pieces of legislation are under simultaneous consideration.
The Budget Reconciliation Bill calls for a balanced federal budget within seven years. A different bill would allow the Secretary of the Treasury to borrow more money to pay off foreign debts. The third bill is the Continuing Resolution, which would allow the federal government to continue operating even though Congress has not finished its appropriations for the next fiscal year.
President Bill Clinton has "politicized" various aspects of the Budget Reconciliation Bill, which is also known as the Balanced Budget Act, to encourage public opposition to the Republican Congress, according to Portman.
The bill seeks to reduce the rate of growth of Medicare, Medicaid and welfare. Portman said Clinton has scared Americans -- especially elderly Americans -- into thinking Congress is trying "to balance the budget on the backs of the elderly."
But Portman said the bill would cut no funds from these programs. Rather, he said, spending would increase in these programs every year -- just more slowly than the current rate of growth.
"If we don't get the entitlement spending under control we can't hope to balance our budget down the road without huge tax increases," he said.
"Everyone likes the idea of having a balanced budget," Portman said. But cultivating popular support is difficult because beneficiaries seldom wish to lose entitlements, he said.
To prevent entitlement spending from "spinning out of control" people "have to make some sacrifices," he said.
The president has threatened to veto unless Republicans remove the proviso stating that Congress is committed to having a balanced budget within seven years.
Because no Continuing Resolution had been passed, about 800,000 "nonessential" government employees were sent home last week.
Late last night, the Clinton administration and Republican congressional leaders ended their six-day budget standoff after the White House committed to speedy negotiations to balance the budget in seven years.
In an interview with The Dartmouth yesterday before the deal was reached, Portman said it is essential that Clinton agree to the seven-year proposal.
"My personal view is that as much as I hate to see government shut down, it would be a mistake to not have the president commit to a seven-year time frame," Portman said. "I think if you don't commit to that time frame, you'll never get to a balanced budget."
"I would advise that we hold firm," he said.
Congress must set a deadline, because "if we don't turn the corner now, it may be too late," Portman said. "We won't be able to sustain these high amounts of deficits anymore."
Everyone attending the presentation was given pamphlets and audio cassettes supporting the candidacy of Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kansas, for the Republican nomination for the presidency in 1996.
Portman co-chairs an organization of Representatives advocating Dole's nomination.
Portman said Dole is the best presidential candidate in the Republican party and has the best chance to defeat Clinton in 1996.
"I think when people look at Bob Dole, they see a man of ... unblemished character who is widely respected,"
Portman got to know Dole personally when he was the Director of the Office of Legislative Affairs in President George Bush's White House.
In his interview with The Dartmouth, Portman said Dole's character "is as presidential as anyone I know."
"Bob Dole has gone through a lot of hardship," he said. "He has a lot of compassion, he cares about people, and his instincts and judgment are both impeccable."
In addition, Portman said Dole is "a person of his word, which is increasingly rare in politics these days."
Although Portman majored in anthropology at Dartmouth, he grew interested in politics during an internship his sophomore year with U.S. Representative Bill Gradison.
When Gradison retired in 1993, Portman won his seat in a special election.
Portman serves on several House committees, including the powerful Ways and Means Committee.