STEUBENVILLE - Americans frustrated by stagnant job numbers need look no further than the Senate's refusal to act on House-approved jobs bills, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, said.
Johnson, in Jefferson County to meet with constituents, said more than 27 bi-partisan jobs-related House bills had stalled in the Democrat-controlled Senate, and it's been three years since they'd passed a budget, despite being required by law to have one in place by April 15.
"In 2011 and 2012 the House passed a budget," Johnson told residents gathered Monday at a town hall meeting at Eastern Gateway Community College. "The Senate has already said they will not pass a budget. How can we move along when our elected officials won't do what the law requires them to do?"
MEETS CONSTITUENTS — U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, right, chatted with Bully Tools owner Mark Gracy, second from left, and his wife, Carol, while Steubenville resident Joseph “Slugs” Smarrella looked on Monday evening after a town hall event at Eastern Gateway Community College. The meeting, hosted by Johnson, focused on job creation.
Johnson, who earlier in the day met with the Herald-Star's editorial board, said the Senate needs "incentives to force them to do what the people of America elected them to do." He's proposed legislation under which lawmakers in either chamber who fail to pass a budget prior to the deadline would forfeit their salaries until they comply "and use that money to help pay down the debt," though in order for his proposal to take effect it first would have to garner the votes of the very individuals at whom it is aimed.
But Johnson told the two dozen residents in attendance that Americans are worried about "the mountain of debt" the nation is accumulating, as well as a health care system that's "falling apart." Also of concern, he said, is a Medicare system that will be bankrupt by 2024, "far sooner than anyone expected," and a Social Security fund doomed to run out of money around 2033 unless Congress can fix it.
He said the Obama administration promised its health care law would create jobs, "but 40 percent of small businesses are telling us the health care law is the reason they can't expand their business." Some have seen premiums jump as much as 45 percent, he added.
"That's not a job creator, it's a job killer," he said. "They also promised it would cut costs, yet we're finding out it's going to cost about $2 trillion more than they expected. They told us seniors would be able to keep their own doctors, but we're seeing 1 in 3 doctors restricting the number of Medicare patients they see because they can't afford the reimbursements. And there's going to be a health care panel (in Washington) that will determine who gets treatment and the types of treatment they get."
Johnson said he favors a health care plan that instead would guarantee seniors 55 and older "get to keep their current Medicare coverage with no decreases, and it remains fully funded."
"It would remain viable because we strengthen and preserve it for future generations," he said, noting that under the alternative plan he's supporting, "millionaires would get less support and the poor and high-risk would get more.
"It would begin to eliminate fraud and abuse, and provide a safety net for future generations," he added.
He said government "has a responsibility to honor the commitment made to seniors and the American people" that the Social Security system they paid into for so many years would be there to support them in their retirement years.
"We need to keep Washington's hands out of the till," he said.
And far from put Americans to work, Johnson insists the Obama administration's stimulus plan has had just the opposite effect. "The president promised we'd never see unemployment above 8 percent," he said. "But we've never seen it below 8 percent. It's (hovering) around 8.2 percent now, but that doesn't factor in all the people who have given up hope. Eighty-eight million Americans have given up looking for a job."
Johnson said Congress needs to focus on empowering small business and reducing government barriers to job creation; fix the tax code to help job creators; boost competition for American manufacturers; encourage entrepreneurship and growth; maximize American energy production; "and pay down America's debt burden and live within our means."
"It's necessary that we do these things," he said.
Mark Gracy, owner of Steubenville's Bully Tools, agreed, telling those in attendance that the financial pinch from the new health care law and other governmental regulations makes U.S. companies less able to compete in the market, particularly since their overseas competitors aren't always held to the same stringent environmental and labor standards. That puts American jobs and the American economy at risk, he said.
"Everything you manufacture takes energy," Gracy said. "If you start taxing it, or putting carbon credits on, it's going to make me uncompetitive. It's tough to be competitive when you're competing against China or other governments."
Gracy said just because an item "is not made here or it can't be made here doesn't mean it won't be made somewhere."
"The emissions are still going to take place," he noted. "They're just going to take them somewhere else in the world."
While it might not work for everyone, Gracy said the health plan he has for his employees begins with a $1,200 cash payment to each worker once a year. That money is intended primarily for health care costs, though at the end of the year his employees get to keep whatever they haven't spent making them, essentially, partners in making smart health care decisions. Preventive medicine is emphasized throughout, he said, adding that his system gives his employees an incentive to be wise with their health care choices, perhaps opting to go to their family doctor rather than the emergency room for minor illnesses, or get MRIs done off site rather than in a much-more expensive hospital setting.
Others at the meeting voiced concern with the Obama administration's efforts to require religious organizations to fund procedures and policies "they find offensive."
Johnson said the administration is "trying to turn it into an issue of contraception," when, in fact, it's a question of religious principles.
"They should be able to do what their religious principles say (is right)," he said.
A postal worker also pointed out that the U.S. Postal Service plans to close "two plants and about 10 post offices in the district" to cover the costs of a federal mandate requiring them to pay billions into a pension fund that is already more than fully funded to cover future demands.
Earlier in the day Johnson had said he was also "very concerned" that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is trying to regulate companies and industries out of existence.
For instance, he said EPA is "about to issue rules based on erroneous analysis that will essentially shut down two plants" that produce manganese, needed in steelmaking. He said one of those plants is in Marietta, the other in West Virginia.
"It will cost us 500 jobs, roughly, and the elimination of manganese here in America," he said, pointing out that without a domestic source of manganese the nation will have to rely on foreign producers. In times of conflict that would be problematic for America's steel industry, he pointed out.
He said EPA is currently "trying to insert itself" into the oil and gas industry even though the Ohio Department of Natural Resources "has been regulating the oil and gas business in Ohio since 1965 and been very successful at it."
"I want federal regulators to stay out of Eastern and Southeastern Ohio," he said. "I think our Ohio regulatory agencies have done a good job and will continue to do a good job making sure we do things safely and environmentally soundly."
Johnson said in more than 60 years of record keeping "there's not been one single proven instance where fracking has contaminated drinking water," he said, noting that there are nonetheless "public health, public safety concerns associated with natural gas and fracking."
"We need to do it safely, with the public health in mind," he said, insisting that ODNR is equipped to do that.
And as they go to the polls in November, Johnson also predicts Americans will be thinking about promises made and broken by the Obama administration.
"The primary focus will be on jobs and the economy, how to get people back to work," said Johnson, insisting that the Obama administration's policies "have hurt Americans, made things worse."