Johnson, farmers meet up

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Farm Bureau presidents from throughout U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson’s district met with him on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning, wrapping up their part of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s annual presidents trip to Washington.

Among the issues brought up to the Marietta Republican in his office in the Longworth Building was the extension of U.S. Route 30 limited-access highway from Canton through East Liverpool.

Dave Vollnogle, president of the Columbiana County Farm Bureau, said that while a short extension of the expressway recently was approved, the remainder of the road could be as much as 15 years away because of red tape, even if the money to build the road was there. Vollnogle said with the port at Wellsville and East Liverpool, it would seem important to complete.

“It seems our corner of Ohio just does not get the priority for highway infrastructure,” Vollnogle said.

Johnson said he’s frustrated by red tape and delays. He said the Ohio Department of Transportation contends its studies show the highway wouldn’t meet traffic levels to build the expressway. Johnson said the road is busier with the advent of oil and gas exploration in Columbiana County.

“We have the largest oil and gas reserve in the world under our feet and they’re just going to wait? We need it today,” Johnson said. He said he supports the extension and brings it up every chance he has to Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio Department of Transportation.

However, Johnson said, attempts to reduce red tape in highway projects were stripped from a highway bill proposal in 2012 when the bill made its way from the House through the Senate.

“Folks scream ‘infrastructure, infrastructure,’ but when we give them real solutions, they do not want to do that,” Johnson said.

Earlier, farm bureau presidents from across the state heard from Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who discussed his fears of the development of a government-dependent underclass that could become permanent.

Portman said he wants to see extensions of unemployment benefits beyond 26 weeks tied to skills training, through incentives and requirements, to push job seekers to fill available jobs. Portman said there are 400,000 Ohioans out of work and 100,000 available jobs that aren’t being filled.

He told the agriculture federation representatives that he voted for the recently passed farm bill because of its support for farmers, which constitutes just 20 percent of the spending in the bill. The remaining money is for food stamps and nutrition programs, which Portman said he wished were not tied together with the farm programs.

He said the Congressional Budget Office has produced a study showing as many as 2.5 million Americans will be given a disincentive to working because of the way Obamacare and other federal benefit programs are set up. Workers, he said, actually lose benefits by working, while the nation benefits both economically and in other ways by maintaining the dignity and self-respect gained through work.

“We have to change government policy so that we incentivize work,” Portman said.

Portman also focused on President Obama’s request to obtain trade promotion authority, which allows the president with permission of Congress, to fast track negotiations of international trade agreements, which then must be approved by Congress. Until Obama made the request, he was the only president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt not to request the authority, Portman said.

“We are losing our market share, and other countries are filling that gap,” he said. As evidence, he cited the years-long delays in approval of the Colombia trade agreement, negotiated by President Bush and finally approved under President Obama. In the ensuing years between negotiation and approval, Portman said, other nations began doing business in Columbia.