One Nation Under Debt

Published — August 10, 2011 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Portman known as a pro-business moderate Republican


With experience in the both chambers of Congress and the White House, Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio is better placed than most to make and market a deficit deal.

As popular with his constituents as his fellow members of Congress, Portman was first elected to the House in a 1993 special election with over 70 percent of the vote. He would repeat that feat in six consecutive elections until he left Congress in 2005 to join the cabinet of President George W. Bush as U.S. trade representative. A year later, he took over the Office of Management and Budget. When Portman stepped down in 2007, then-House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he was “one of the best members I have ever served with.” He ran for the Senate seat left vacant by Republican George Voinovich and won by a 57 to 39 percent margin, giving him plenty of political capital to wager.

Coming from an entrepreneurial Cincinnati family, Portman is a traditional pro-business Republican who is not afraid of compromising to make a deal. “We’ve now got to pull back, all of us, from our purity test and come up with how we get something done here that deals with the underlying fiscal problem,” he told the Washington Post in July. During his 12 years in the House, that attitude helped Portman author and pass landmark reforms to the Internal Revenue Service and 401(k) and IRA plans. He counts the passage of the balanced budget agreement and the welfare reform bill as his proudest moments from that period.

Portman has signed an anti-tax pledge that may limit his willingness to compromise on raising revenues, but he has made statements that should encourage Democrats looking for a good-faith negotiating partner. In an interview published Tuesday by the Columbus Dispatch, Portman said the super committee has an opportunity to reform the tax code, “get rid of the stuff that doesn’t make sense and lower the rates. Tax reform ought to be done,” he said. “It will generate more revenue.”

One Democrat in particular has been supportive of Portman’s appointment to the debt negotiations. His Democratic Senate colleague from Ohio, Sherrod Brown, said, “Rob has shown a willingness to find common ground by looking at both tax reform and spending cuts in order to reduce the deficit. It’s time to stop the bickering and put the country first to find a balanced approach to deficit reduction that addresses our top priorities: restoring the economy and putting Ohioans back to work.”

Top Contributors

  • FirstEnergy Corp., an Ohio-based energy company — at least $32,000
  • Huntington Bancshares Inc., an Ohio-based regional bank — at least $25,000
  • Ohio National Financial Services, a family of insurance and financial services companies — at least $22,500
  • MetLife Inc., an insurance and financial services company — at least $16,000
  • National Automotive Dealers Association, a trade association for automobile dealers — at least $16,000
  • PACs gave at least $2.9 million to Portman’s campaign account and his Promoting Our Republican Team leadership PAC

Revolving Door

  • Barbara Pate served as Tax Counsel and Legislative Director for Portman until 2005. Since then, she has become a partner at Davis and Harman, where she lobbies for clients like the Lincoln Financial group, Mutual of Omaha insurance and Nationwide Insurance
  • Bob Schell has recently joined the Washington office of powerhouse Ernst and Young after working as Managing Director and Head of Federal Government Affairs for Citigroup. He has had a long and influential career as both a lobbyist and aide to members of Congress, including Deputy Chief of Staff to House Speaker John Boehner and Chief of Staff and Trade Adviser for Portman. His clients now include AK Steel and his former bosses at Citi
  • A former legislative assistant in the 1990s for Portman, Seth Webb is now a lobbyist for Google

Statements on Super Congress

  • In a statement, Portman pledged to “work hard to ensure that meaningful spending cuts are made to reduce our deficits, change the trajectory of Washington’s record high debt, and to encourage economic growth and job creation.”

Read more in Money and Democracy

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