By LINDA HARRIS - Staff writer
WINTERSVILLE - U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, talked politics and Washington for nearly an hour Thursday with an audience of independent business owners, tackling cornerstone issues like the new health care law and federal over-regulation before turning the floor over to questions from his audience.
Steubenville's Joe Scalise told Johnson the small business community is feeling the sting of Congressional gridlock and sequestration.
"The people who are getting hurt are small business people," Scalise said. "We don't get help, we don't have the lobbyists (big corporations) have. We came here looking for some ray of hope: We need money, we need help or we need to be left alone so we can hang onto our money."
Small business, he said, suffers "because we're not a priority. The big corporations, they get attention when they want it. They've got lobbyists, so they get a lot of attention."
"It's not an indictment of you and your performance," he told Johnson, who was speaking at a breakfast meeting sponsored by the National Federation of Independent Business at Zalenski Family Eatery and Pub. "It's my assessment of Washington and what's going on there."
Johnson said he understands the frustration, adding he shares in it.
"Washington is broken," he said. "It's broken in terms of performance, it's broken in terms of fiscal responsibility."
Federal spending needs to be reigned in, he said. "You can't tell me the federal government can't take a 2 percent or an 8 percent cut," he said, pointing out that would amount to pennies on the dollar. "Most of us can do that."
He said government's agencies have "lost sight of what their real jobs are. They think if they're not putting out regulations, they're not doing their job. But their job is to create a regulatory environment that will allow business to prosper, to solve problems, not create barriers."
He said the administration's new health care law could be devastating to many Americans. The Ohio Department of Insurance reports premiums could increase as much as 88 percent, he said, while a study done for the Energy and Commerce Committee suggested 45 of 50 states will see costs increase by as much as 400 percent.
"Sen. (Max) Bauchus called it a train wreck," he said about the Montana Democrat. "Even some Democrats who endorsed the bill and voted for it are saying (that). We need to get the administration to work with us to stop it."
Johnson added that members of the House of Representatives have voted "40 different times to repeal the health care law, but we get no cooperation from the Senate."
He said they need to find a way to "get the federal government out of the way and off our backs." Over-regulation and the heavy tax burden "create a negative business environment," he said. "We need to eliminate unnecessary, harmful regulations and reduce the tax burden on business, so we can give businesses an opportunity to thrive and stay in business."
He said ever-tightening environmental regulations have put the coal industry at risk, "and after they're done with the coal industry, they'll be coming after oil and gas."
"(The administration) doesn't want Americans to use fossil fuels," he said. "They want America to be powered by alternative fuel sources."
He said it's time to "get Americans to feel good and proud about being Americans again."