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In New Congress, Portman and Brown Hold Coveted Seats on Finance Committee

Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 5:50 PM

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It’s been 60 years since any of Ohio’s U.S. senators have sat on the Finance Committee. Now both of them are on it. For Ohio Public Radio, WKSU’s M.L. Schultze has more on what that may bode for Ohio and the nation.

Rarely does someone mention the Senate Finance Committee without throwing in the adjective “powerful.” That’s because it is the oldest and—well—arguably most powerful committee in the Senate. It deals with taxes and trade agreements, Social Security and healthcare and something broadly called “fiscal responsibility and economic growth.”

And the 113th Congress will have both of Ohio’s U.S. senators, Republican Rob Portman and Democratic Sherrod Brown, sitting on that powerful committee.

University of Kansas professor Burdett—call him “Bird”—Loomis has edited a recent book about the Senate called “The U.S. Senate: From Deliberation to Dysfunction.” Still, he says the Senate has done relatively well in the last week compared in the House. And he predicts it will have to do much more.

“Even in the era in which the executive has become stronger,” Loomis says, “there’s no question that these tax-writing committees have substantial power. Not only substantial power to set taxes broadly, but as we’ve seen in the last few days, they can also carve out various kinds of exceptions. And so that means that for given industries, they’re extremely important.”

And with two Ohio senators on the committee, he says the auto and auto parts industries may see some special consideration—or at least protections.

Loomis says party leaders have gained ascendance over committee chairman in the House. But in the Senate, “everything has to be done pretty much by general agreement. And so the committees, if anything, in the Senate have gotten somewhat stronger, and particularly when you have skillful people. And I think both of your senators qualify—from different ideological points of view—as being skillful senators.”

Loomis says much of the role of the senators on the Finance Committee over the next four years will be “playing defense.”

“The administration is looking for more revenue,” he says “and I think that on given issues, both legislators could protect some of those interests, whether it is low-income citizens, whether it is a certain kind of tax exemption for a given industry or a general provision that affects Ohio maybe more than it would a different state.”

But he says much of what will be done “may be behind the scenes very much of the time.” Still, he says, “I think having a seat at that table is extraordinarily much important.”

On broader terms, Loomis expects the battles in Congress to last well beyond the next debt-ceiling debate in a few months.

“It is, I think, for the rest of the Obama term, unless there’s a huge deal that is made,” he says. “I think that you’re going to have Congress and the House having to deal with debt limits, having to deal with sequestration and having to come up with potentially more revenues. And so I do think we’re gonna see a series of these mini-cliffs or whatever metaphor you want to use, over the next one to two to three years.”

Which, he says, is one more reason that Ohio’s senators “being there in the room, particularly having a member from both parties in the room, is very important.”

Still, Loomis says it may have happened more by accident than design that both Ohioans are on the Finance Committee. Both Brown and Portman have simply proved their party mettle.

“The Democrat (Sherrod Brown) I think has demonstrated both political and legislative skill and certainly gets a major committee assignment,” he says. “And you know Rob Portman is clearly one of the most admired politicians in the Senate. But some of it is simply luck of the draw, so I wouldn’t read too much into it. But it’s true that in the next few years that the Senate Finance Committee will be the home of a lot of action.”

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