Monday, October 16, 2000

Portman wants surplus spent on tax, Social Security reforms

By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — Rep. Rob Portman has devoted much of his seven years in Congress to making the demonized Internal Revenue Service more accountable.

        His pressure led to the hiring of a taxpayer advocate and creation of an oversight board.

        Mr. Portman outlined his views on other issues in an interview with the Enquirer.

        Enquirer: The federal government is now in the unusual situation of having a budget surplus. What should be done with it?

        Portman: I think the No. 1 issue in this campaign for Congress is how we're going to handle the surplus.

        My great fear is that we're going to use it to expand the bureaucracy and grow government because it

        is easy to spend.

        My great hope is that we use the surplus to reform government and give people more choice, give people more power.

        That means ... use this tremendous opportunity we have to reform the Medicare system and the Social Security system so it's there for the younger generation.

        At the same time, promise our seniors we're not going to touch their benefits, by not taking the irresponsible position that the Clinton-Gore administration has taken, and that Al Gore has taken, which is we're just going to throw more money into a failing system.

        Then, I would take part of the surplus and I would use it for tax relief and tax reform.

        Again, it's not just about giving tax relief. We ought to use this opportunity to reform our tax system, to make it simpler.

        Enquirer: In 1993, Republicans argued that President Clinton's economic policies would sputter the economy further into recession. But the exact opposite happened.

        Portman: Republicans were right, in my view. I think President Clinton deserves very little credit for the economy.

        If President Clinton had had his way, we would have had one-sixth of our economy nationalized through the health care plan they wanted to do.

        Enquirer: You have proposed increasing the amount of money people can save in IRAs and 401(k) accounts. You have also backed Texas Gov. George W. Bush's suggestion that people be able to invest part of their Social Security money.

        Portman: I think you've got to do both.

        I think the first building block is to give people the right to set aside more of their money tax-free in IRAs, 401(k)s and pensions, contributions they make to a more traditional, a more defined-benefit pension plan. ... The next step, I think, is Social Security reform, which follows naturally from that.

        Once more people are in mutual funds through their 401(k)s, once more people are used to investing in their own future, I think there will be even more support and more acceptability of the notion that you should be able to take some of your (Social Security) taxes — not all of it — and set up your own personal accounts that are regulated by the government.

        Enquirer: Everyone seems to agree that some form of prescrip tion drug coverage should be added to Medicare, but how do you think it should be structured?

        Portman: I think it's crucial that Medicare be reformed from the bottom up, not just for prescription drug coverage.

        That's what I like about Gov. Bush's approach. He says, yes, on a stopgap basis, we're going to provide billions of dollars to the states — $48 billion — that will be what the states can use immediately ... to cover seniors who need prescription drugs now. Gov. Bush's plan goes up to 175 percent of (the) poverty (level).

        That's a four-year plan. During that four years, you would have a bipartisan Medicare commission that would be formed that would propose legislation to reform Medicare from the bottom up.

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