STEUBENVILLE - While the two men running for Ohio's 6th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives agree that jobs have to be a priority, they have widely disparate views of what is needed to create a climate conducive to economic growth.
Vying for the seat are incumbent Republican Bill Johnson of Marietta, and Democrat Charlie Wilson of St. Clairsville, the man he defeated for the job two years ago.
Johnson, 57, sees a definite divide in the halls of Congress and says the problem "is a lack of leadership in the Senate, quite honestly."
"Our system of government is built on each chamber doing its job," he said. "Each chamber puts forward legislation, we're supposed to come together and then come up with something" both chambers can live with.
"The system only works when both chambers do their job," Johnson said, pointing out the Senate hasn't passed a budget in three years. "That's why I introduced the 'Pass the Budget Now' act, it requires both chambers to pass the budget as required by law or not get paid."
He said it's easy to blame partisanship for legislative gridlock, "but how do you negotiate when only one person's at the table? You can't negotiate with a blank piece of paper."
Johnson said Washington must live within its means.
"Every family has to balance their budget, every business has to balance its budget. Why shouldn't Washington have to do the same?" he said.
He said small business creates 60 percent of jobs in America. Since job creation is one of the most important issues facing the 6th District, he said it stands to reason that the key to creating jobs in the U.S. "is to take the heavy boot of Washington regulators off the necks of businesses, let Americans keep more of what they earn, close loopholes, repeal the health care law ... and replace it with common sense solutions that will keep health care decisions between patients and their doctors and reduce health care costs, all while protecting Medicare for our seniors and future generations."
"Right now, government regulations are costing the economy about $1.7 trillion a year," Johnson said. "We're putting companies out of business because of the regulatory burden and the cost of doing business."
Johnson said the U.S. tax code is one of the most cumbersome in the world. "At the turn of the century, the federal tax code was just 300 pages long. Today it's 65,000 pages long," he said, "and it costs billions of dollars every year out of our economy just to file our taxes - that's not to pay taxes, it's the process of filing our taxes."
Johnson said 40 percent of small businesses say the health care law "is the reason they cannot grow and hire people."
"I support a program that repeals the health care law and keeps decisions, patients and doctors, not federal bureaucracies in Washington," Johnson said. "I advocate tort reform, incentives for pre-tax dollars to invest in health savings accounts to offset the cost of routine health care and competition," he said. "I agree that health insurance providers should not be able to discriminate based on pre-existing conditions, and in an economy like ours where half of all graduates are unemployed or underemployed, it's a good thing to let them stay on their parents insurance until age 26."
Johnson said Americans "absolutely have to address our fiscal situation."
"We have a $16 trillion debt. That means we're borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we spend at the federal level," he said. "We cannot sustain that. There will come a point in time where the debt is bigger than the economy. There are going to have to be cuts made, across the board. When you start addressing regulatory reform, tax reform and health care law, those are big chunks of (the problem) and if we can solve those, we can get America moving in the right direction."
Johnson joined the U.S. Air Force after graduating from high school in 1973, retiring from the military in 1999 as a lieutenant colonel. He graduated summa cum laude from Troy University in Troy, Ala., with a bachelor's degree in computer science, and earned his master's degree from Georgia Tech in 1984. A small business owner himself, Johnson started two information technology firms - one dealing with commercial manufacturing technologies and the other providing IT consulting to the defense industry. Prior to being elected to Congress, he was chief information officer for a global manufacturing company that made electronic components for the transportation industry.
Wilson, 69, says when his opponent talks about Washington being broken, "he's really saying he's not doing his job."
"I think it's his ability to negotiate and say, 'Hey, what can I do to make this acceptable?' For instance, I agree with the War on Coal bill he introduced; what I don't agree with is him not talking to anybody in the Senate so he could make that bill so they could accept it. You work together, you negotiate. That's my argument - why don't you sit down with them, find out what is in there that you can't live with."
He said during his 10 years in a Republican dominated Statehouse, "I didn't have any problem at all" getting things done.
On the federal budget, Wilson said there are "lots of things that can be done."
"It begins by putting people back to work," he said. "You don't put people back to work by outsourcing jobs. ... When people go back to work they start paying taxes, their health care many times is taken care of by their employer, debt starts falling."
Wilson said his opponent has been in Washington fighting to extend the Bush-era tax cuts indefinitely.
"Bush had the sense to say let's do this temporarily because he knew there's only so much the economy can stand," Wilson said. "The tax cuts for the wealthy have already been extended to 2012, now they want to extend it indefinitely. Why do you think the Bush administration had the sense to put a time limit on? Because they knew we can't continue to do it, the economy just can't stand it."
He said government needs to encourage the business community to invest in America. "That's how you start putting people back to work. You do it by encouraging people to come back into the area."
Wilson said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is over-reaching its authority when it comes to coal, oil and gas.
"We've got to get EPA out of our coal business and our electricity-producing business," he said. "When I was in Congress I did introduce House Resolution 6113, which prevents EPA from using federal funds to close coal minds in Appalachia. It didn't pass, but I had co-sponsors and I tried to stop the EPA from doing what they did."
Wilson said he voted against cap and trade legislation "because it is an energy tax."
"I stood up against the president, against the Speaker of the House. ... I voted for the people of my district," he said. "I was under tremendous pressure from my party but I said no."
Wilson said the health care law "was a very difficult vote."
"I worried about it, thought a lot about it," he said. "I just decided I couldn't sit by and watch 31,000 children in our district lose their opportunity to get hospitalization in the future because they have pre-existing conditions and they're marked for life. Just as Medicare has evolved over the years, I truly believe affordable health care will change over the years. Some parts that are not so good need to be taken out, some things that can help people even more need to go in. It will change, morph, if you will, as it goes forward."
Wilson said he's had a lifetime of business experience. Educated at Ohio University at Athens, until recently he owned Wilson Furniture Store in Bridgeport, recently selling it to a family member, and still owns Wilson Funeral Homes, which has four locations in the area. He also logged 10 years in Ohio government, having been elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1996 and the Ohio Senate in 2004. In 2006 he won a write-in campaign to fill the congressional seat vacated by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.
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