Ohio Senator Says There’s No Avoiding Fiscal Cliff


UPDATED: Friday February 22, 2013 4:11 PM

In a one-on-one interview with 10TV, Ohio's junior senator Rob Portman discussed Washington's inability to prevent sequestration.

"My gut is we're going to end up going over this cliff," Portman said.  "That may be what is necessary to trigger a more serious discussion about how we deal with our fiscal future."

Unless President Obama and Congress reach a deal by Friday, almost every government agency could face cutbacks and many federal workers could lose their jobs.

"The sequester, if it were to go into effect, would have an impact, no question," Portman said  "It's about a five or six percent cut across the board. Some have exaggerated it's impact, probably.  But I think it's real. I think it’s bad policy."

Ohio's defense industry could be particularly hit hard.  The Air Force says furloughed civilian workers could cost Ohio's economy over $110 million in lost wages and affect up to 13,000 civilian workers.

"If you have pilot training, for instance, and you're cutting that by five or six percent, that makes no sense, we want our pilots to be safe," Portman says.

A new Pew poll finds 49 percent of Americans would fault Republicans for job losses resulting from the sequester, compared to 31 percent who would blame Obama.

"Whose fault is it?" Portman asks, "There's probably enough blame to go around.  But I do think the president enjoys the politics of blaming Republicans when in fact we should instead be spending our time figuring out how to solve these problems."

Last month Portman supported the fiscal cliff agreement, stating he was pleased that "the $1.2 trillion sequester put in place by the Budget Control Act will not be unwound."

On health care, Portman says he opposes the new federal law and worries about its sustainability.

"I oppose the way they are expanding Medicaid, because Medicaid needs to be reformed," Portman said.  "I don't think the current system is going to be able to withstand the financial pressure and that's not based on ideology but on math."

Gov. John Kasich's budget proposal supports expanding Medicaid.  Ohio would receive about $13 billion from the federal government.  But Kasich's plan is opposed by state Treasurer Josh Mandel along with tea party groups.  Portman would not say which side is right.

"I guess it depends where you stand on that," Portman told 10tv's Jim Heath. "I'm understanding at the federal level how some governors are making decisions based on their budgets and their interests.  But continuing to say, as I have consistently, this is not the right way to go.  We have to reform the program and make the program work better."

On the confirmation of defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, Portman says an up or down vote is coming in the next few weeks.

"Clearly, President Obama chose a Republican who is not popular with Republicans," Portman says.  "I don't think senator Hagel is the right guy for the job.  It's nothing against him personally.  But I'll tell you the Department of Defense needs a leader right now.  "

Portman feels differently about Jack Lew, Obama's pick to head the Treasury Department.

"At his hearings he said all the right things, honestly.  I was impressed.  One reason I'm inclined to support Jack Lew is the fact that I think he's serious about tax reform."

Columbus mayor Michael Coleman told 10TV this week the city will attempt to land a major party political convention in 2016.  Portman thinks it's a good idea.

"Columbus would be a terrific place to hold it.  We've got a lot to show off here in Columbus so it'd be great."

Sen. Portman's interview will be used as part of the Capitol Square program on Sunday at 11 a.m. on WBNS-10TV.

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