WASHINGTON, D. C. — The threat of a snowstorm sent some lawmakers and their staff home early March 5 and 6 — the final two days of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s annual trip to Capitol Hill.
But, senators and representatives who were scheduled to meet with Farm Bureau members mostly did so.
During a forum hosted by Reps. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, Farm Bureau members heard from Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Ohio representatives Brad Wenstrup and David Joyce.
A top concern was the budget and spending — just days after the March 1 federal sequester took effect. The cuts are estimated to save $85 billion annually.
During the trip, no one spoke favorably of the sequester, but there seemed to be some agreement that cuts were necessary — and more are needed.
“There is a better way to do it, but we can’t back off the savings,” said U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “This is just, unfortunately, part of what has to be done.”
Portman scrutinized the cuts made to the military, where half of sequester cuts are expected to take place. He said he’s also concerned the cuts are too specific, and that military personnel, and others mandated to make cuts, should be given more flexibility to decide how to carry out those cuts.
Sherrod Brown, Ohio’s Democratic senator, said everything needs to be on the table when looking at what to cut. He said the sequester “was a stupid idea in both parties,” but something that both parties allowed to happen.
“People voted for it. The president signed it. It doesn’t matter whose fault it was or who started it,” Brown said.
Although the cuts affect public officials most directly, Brown said they will be felt by the private sector, too.
“It clearly results in layoffs and it clearly results in a stumbling economy,” he said. “When you’re losing public sector jobs, it’s a drag on private sector job growth, too.”
The sequester battle is part of a much larger budget battle that has plagued the nation the past couple years, with threats of government shutdowns, fiscal cliffs and where to set the debt limit.
Brown said the answer is to improve economic growth, cut spending and also bring in more revenue. For more revenue, he suggested closing tax loopholes, which he said have unfairly favored oil companies, Wall Street hedge fund managers and manufacturers who want to move their companies overseas.
“All of those are tax loopholes that I think would be good public policy to close them and I think we’ll bring in tens and tens of billions of dollars,” Brown said.
Portman serves on the budget and finance committees and said it will take a bipartisan effort to solve the budget crisis.
“We’ve got to get into agreement,” he said, adding that he received a surprise phone call last week from President Obama, seeking some common ground on the budget.
“If the guy is serious, I’ll work with him. I’ll work with anybody,” Portman said.
But what Portman likely won’t do is agree to raise taxes. He said the answer, instead, is growing the American way of free enterprise and innovation.
“If we try to tax ourselves out of this, it won’t work,” he said. “It will make it a weaker economy, it will put us in the doldrums of perennially high unemployment and high interest level.”
Rep. Paul Ryan, just a few months off his bid for vice president, is chairman of the House Budget Committee. He said the president has yet to submit a budget, something that was supposed to have happened by Feb. 4.
As Ryan sees it, producing a timely budget would be a common sense response to the debt crisis.
“When you have a problem, you budget to fix your problem,” he said. “That’s what we do at local government, that’s what families do, that’s what businesses do.”
He said a budget could be submitted any day. But without one, the government “isn’t planning, isn’t preparing, isn’t budgeting” and the results continue to surface.
“When you are taking a look at our fiscal policy in this country, you have to acknowledge the fact that it’s on a really dangerous path,” Ryan said. “This deficit hurts our economy today, it produces a tremendous amount of uncertainty, it will, in the future, produce huge pressure to raise interest rates, which is very harmful to economic growth.”
House Speaker John Boehner said the sequester has been in place since November of 2011. He said the House acted twice to replace it with what he called “common sense reductions,” but to no avail.
“Over the course of the last couple months, the president has run around the country just moaning and groaning about how awful these cuts are,” Boehner said. They’re not the smartest way to cut spending, but it’s time for the Senate to act, it’s time for the president, who wants all kinds of things, it’s time for him to get his colleagues in the Senate to pass what he wants. Of course, they can’t pass what he wants because he wants to raise taxes.”
Boehner said he was invited to meet with the president prior to the sequester, and that he has had some other private meetings with the president.
But, he said all members of Congress and the American people should be part of any compromise.
“It’s going to take more than the president and I sitting behind closed doors to get this done,” he said.
See more of our coverage of the Farm Bureau president’s trip here.