Veepstakes 2012

Buckeye budgeteer: GOP Sen. Rob Portman

No sooner had Sen. Rob Portman welcomed HUMAN EVENTS intern Terrance Williams and me to his Senate office March 21 than the freshman Republican from Ohio walked us into an adjoining conference room. Looking down at us from a painting on the wall was Portman’s political hero: Ohio Republican Sen. Robert A. Taft.

“This is the ‘Bob Taft’ conference room,” said Portman, proudly telling us we were in the same conference room used by the revered conservative senator from the Buckeye State (1938-53) who unsuccessfully sought the GOP presidential nomination three times.

Aware that young Terrance might not be familiar with Taft, Portman patiently explained why the senator and son of a president was a national leader conservatives admired in the post-World War II years as they later would Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. He spoke of Taft’s commitment to a balanced budget, reduced taxes and the landmark labor reform measure that bears his name: the Taft-Hartley Act.

Underscoring his admiration for Taft, the 55-year-old Portman’s brings out a copy of Mr. Republican, James Patterson’s definitive biography of Taft. On the bookshelf to the right of the senator’s desk sits 1948, historian David Pietrusza’s much-praised new book on the election in which Taft made his second bid for the GOP presidential standard.

In many ways, Rob Portman is like Robert Taft in his early years as a senator: someone colleagues and Republicans outside Congress look to for guidance and leadership on key issues. As head of the Office of Management and Budget in George W. Bush’s second term, Portman is considered one of the premier authorities on spending and budget matters in Congress.

A graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Michigan Law School, the young Portman served as a White House staffer under the elder George Bush. In 1992, when then-Republican Rep. Bill Gradison was considering whether to run again, Portman recalled, “that’s when [Ohio GOP Rep. and present House Speaker] John Boehner took me out to lunch and said, ‘Get ready.’ And that’s why I’m here today, probably, because he got me thinking about running for Congress.”

Gradison did run again and win in ’92, but then resigned to take a private-sector job. With help from some hard-hitting radio commercials by First Lady Barbara Bush, Portman won the special election and held the district until ’05, when George W. Bush tapped him to be U.S. trade representative. After that, he became Bush’s budget boss.

And that led to our obvious first question: Is the country ever going to get a budget?

On the Ryan plan—and whether we get a budget at all

“It is unbelievable to me that, in a time of record deficits and debt, we’re not even doing a budget,” Portman told us. “The Senate has not done a budget now for three years. We have no blueprint as to how we get out of this mess because the Senate leadership refuses to even bring a budget to the floor for consideration. And I’m on the Budget Committee and, frankly, I’m a little bored because I’m not doing anything in terms of the budget.”

The reason Congress is not moving forward, insisted Portman, “is that the Democratic leadership of the Senate refuses to even begin the process. The House will pass a budget again this year I believe. They passed one last year. I voted for it. I’m likely to support it again this year. Do I agree with everything in it? No, you never do in a budget. They are incredibly comprehensive documents, because they deal with both the revenue and the spending side.

Turning to Terrance, Portman said, “I feel strongly that we need to have a responsible answer to the question that your generation is asking, which is, are we going to leave you holding the bag. Are we going to leave you with a budget deficit that is so significant that you can not have the kind of opportunities that your parents and grandparents had. Are we going to care more about the next election or the next generation? That’s what’s at stake here.”

With House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) having unveiled the House budget plan just days before our interview, Portman says, without hesitation: “I like it. I voted for it last time. I like the idea of the approach to Medicare where you give people a choice. I believe people will choose the private plans because I think they’ll offer them more benefits and more flexibility and seniors will make an informed choice. So I think that’s the way to go and it also has the advantage of putting Medicare more into a market -based, consumer-oriented or patient-centric system, where private sector plans are competing for their business.”

Because he is so closely identified with budget and spending issues, Portman’s commitment to social conservatism is sometimes questioned. But the senator, who is strongly pro-life, voted a conservative line (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 89 percent) on most issues during his years in the U.S. House.

“Social issues are very important,” he says, “But, they’re not, in my view, the central issue of the campaign this year. The central issues are going to be issues where Congress and an administration can make or break our economy. It is creating the climate for success or the climate for overregulation, higher taxes and failure.” “I think that’s the central challenge of our time: How to get the debt and deficit under control, and how to create an environment for economic success. T hat’s why we’ve been on this jobs plan. We had a jobs plan in the campaign. I then brought it to Congress. I got all 47 [Republican] senators to support it. It’s a common sense approach saying, tax reform regulatory relief, healthcare cost reduction, energy production. Those are the central issues.”

Will Portman, like Taft, run nationally after one year?

“Romney owes Portman big-time,” was a mantra among political junkies that made the rounds on Twitter March 20, the evening of the Ohio presidential primary. In eking out a win over Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney had strong campaign assistance from freshman Sen. Portman and the former Massachusetts governor performed exceptionally well in Cincinnati—Portman country, where the senator comes from and where he was a popular congressman for a dozen years.

Along with helping Romney to win a key primary and his own impressive resume, Portman is touted as a vice presidential candidate because it is widely thought he could guarantee the GOP ticket the Buckeye State’s 19 electoral votes. Speaking in Pennsylvania last week, veteran pollster and Fox News commentator Frank Luntz listed Portman as one of four possible running mates for Romney who could get a key state that went to Obama in ’08 to flip to the Republican ticket in ’12. With one exception—1960, when it went for Richard Nixon over John Kennedy—has Ohio not given its electoral votes to a winning candidate for president. (The other three Luntz suggested were Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida [29 electoral votes], Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin [10] and Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia [13].)

And to the “yes, but” rejoinder that Portman has served less than one year in the Senate, Portman promoters point out that his overall credentials are truly gilt-edged. And, they note, Bob Taft was so recognized as a leader in the Senate soon after his initial election in 1938 that no one complained about his being there too briefly when he made his first bid for the White House in 1940.

But Portman insists he’s not interested in the Veep nod and says that Ohio’s electoral votes will go for the Republican ticket without him on it. In his words, “I think the independent voters who will make the difference in a state like Ohio are increasingly concerned about the budget deficit and the economy, and those are Romney’s strengths.” As for the Republican voters, the senator believes that “Republicans are excited. They’re excited about replacing Barack Obama. Honestly, If you look at the polling and the focus groups, most of the energy right now and enthusiasm is on our side. So I’m not as worried about that this year, in terms of getting people to the polls.”

Portman personally likes fellow freshman Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida as their party’s vice presidential nominee. He also described Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels as “an interesting choice… another former OMB director who understands how to balance budgets.”

When I reminded him that Calvin Coolidge’s Vice President Charles Dawes had been head of what was then called the Bureau of the Budget, Portman leaned back, smiled, and said: “The history of the job is fascinating. When you’re putting together the biggest budget in the world, everybody comes to you and says, ‘I need my thing’ and you have to say, ‘No, this is how it’s gonna be.’ Anyway, it’s a great learning experience.”

Spending a morning with Rob Portman will convince just about any visitor that he has indeed just had “a great learning experience” and that Portman will be teaching his colleagues, his party and the public about spending and budget issues for a long time to come.

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  • Borghesius

    From Ohio:

    Sen. Portman, you are a decent enough guy, intelligent, fit etc.  You have the experience, background, and lack of public profile that makes you a perfect vice president.  But everything you do says “I am a part of the machine.”  For anyone under 50, “Bob Taft” means the SON of Robert Taft who effed the state, raised every fee he could, left in disgrace, and we went to the tender mercies of Ted Strickland, possibly one of the nastiest men ever to serve as Ohio governor.  

    Choose Romney/Portman if you want the blue-blood, country club, technocrat republican ticket.

    There is a movement out here, called the Tea Party, which has attracted republicans, democrats, libertarians, and people who have never been involved before.  You may have heard of them.  They were the margin of victory, the shift between 2008 and 2010.  They see the connection between the social issues and the economic issues, that they are the same.  Without them, there is no margin of victory.  

    And I’m so sorry you’re bored on the Senate budget committee.  

    Maybe if I could spend a morning with you, you could convince me that you have want it takes to LEAD the country better than anyone else.  But it is not self evident.  

  • NovelDog

    I can understand your negative, or doubtful attitude on what Mr. Portman said, however he did not say he wanted to be the VP. There are many who do want it, and there are many who do not. The first thing that needs to be achieved is to solidly nail down the GOP nomination for President for Mitt Romney.

    I believe he will make a good presindent, and a very conscientious one, dedicated to restoring and protecting our freedoms. I believe he will revive our economy, and with the help of a Republican Congress, eliminate many of the restrictive regulations that have been stifling business growth, and development. His administration will lead to many new jobs, lower taxes, and a booming economy. But he needs our support. We do not need to fight among ourselves over who will be the nominee, or who will be the VP nominee.

    Obama, and his liberal machine, such as the Democratic Party, and the Liberal News Media, are going to make it very difficult for either him, or anyone else to win. They will report lies ,and withhold the truth in an all out effort to maintain their status quo.

    If we all prayed more, and argued among ourselves less, we probably would achieve much more? I appreciate your candor, and you have made many good points in your post. We have a lot of good people on this site, and they for the most part, appear to love, God, and Country, and want us to remain a free, and prosperous society. We can achieve that if we vote the Liberals out of office.

    Have a good day sir, and may all the others on this site also have a good day. Let’s sit back tonight and enjoy the game which I hope will not be decided by the refs, but by good hard play. Get out the pop corn and soda pops and relax guys!

  • KMF1

    It seems that all the VP possibilities are far, far better than Romney himself.  Perhaps the ticket order should be reversed.

  • Borghesius

    Thanks new dog.  You are actually one of the most civil Romney supporters that I have heard here, and it may be part of the problem.  He has been harmed by his associations.   It is doubt; doubt that the people who are leading the party understand and also trust the electorate.  We are not primarily republicans, but primarily conservatives.  We are not children, and not un-educated.

    I have listened to Mitt on Hannity (repeatedly) and read the website, and listened for about half of the debates.  The stated positions are actually fine, but like many here, the fear is that he has gone full negative on other republicans, driven down the base, and has not emphasized the positive aspects of his platform.  If he corrects or compensates for these things, he may win the general.  He will not have a funding advantage, and he will need that enthusiastic support. That is my goal.

    Your second paragraph is based on hope.  My view is, based on Mr. Romneys past history in MA., is that he accommodates to his surroundings and his legislature.  If conservatives with the other republicans take control of the legislature, they may do those things, and Romney will help THEM.  I can accept that.  But in order to be the nominee, he has to earn it.  And in this primary time period, we have the chance to define our candidates with most of the attention on us.  Take advantage of that, and it is being missed.  Do this, and this whole debate goes away.  Do what Ann Romney says, unzip the real Mitt, and let the chips fall where they may.  We sense that Mitt is not speaking naturally, and it makes us uneasy.

    Because we love God, and Country, and our fellow citizens, we want the best candidate for the office of president.  Convince me that he is, and can be trusted to stand for his core, and you wall have my support.  Convince me that he Gets It, both fiscally and morally as described by DeTouqeville, then you have my support. 

    But being from Ohio, and having had the Republican Machine for generations, I have more skepticism than many.  

    Again, thanks for your kind words, and I pray that you and yours are well this season, and that God’s will be done.  

  • Joseph Hunt

    Same as last time, Palin is a Conservative and McCain is a RINO……..

  • John R Schuh

    I’ve only seen Portman on Utube.  He looks very uncomfortable in a crowd without a tie.

  • 1931

    If name recognition means anything in elections, Portman will do very little for Romney !!

  • 1931

    Portman may be a great guy – I know very little about him.  If a V.P. running mate is to help the Prez candidate, it had better be someone who will inspire the race, and bring in votes the Prez candidate would not otherwise get, e.g., Marco Rubio, Sarah Palin, etc. -

  • MyronJPoltroonian

    As to the Portman Clan, Natalie is the sexiest, however, politically, she “Acts” the “Blondest”.