Facing questions about being on the national Republican ticket, Rob Portman keeps telling reporters he wants to be a Senator. And the funny thing about that is that he’s actually acting like one.
In a Congress defined by manufactured crisis, gridlock and ample partisan rancor, the Ohioan has been reaching across the aisle for legislative initiatives he finds worthy. And while all the hullabaloo of the will-he-won’t-he game of vice presidential politics might be a nuisance — or might even be the buildup to an actual selection — the freshman Senator is using his Beltway know-how and spotlight to introduce bills that actually aim to cut through some of gridlock, such as a measure Wednesday to end the practice of government shutdowns.
Portman has found willing and able partners in vulnerable, in-cycle moderate Democrats. Montana Sen. Jon Tester, who is facing one of the toughest re-election battles in the country, is the Democratic co-sponsor of the anti-shutdown bill. And throughout the year, Portman has teamed up with Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), his counterpart on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight. The two launched a wide-ranging probe in February into the Obama administration’s public relations spending and recently introduced a bill revamping the process for considering the miscellaneous tariff bill to get around Congressional earmark bans.
“Where there’s common ground, it’s easy,” Portman said in a brief interview, adding that he often can “agree on the basics” with moderates of both parties. “We’re reaching out to everybody. [Tester] had interest in it. The idea is to avoid the kind of fiscal year-end crisis we normally find ourselves in.”
With an intensifying national spotlight on Portman, his push to end the practice of government shutdown threats — and in a bipartisan manner — is especially interesting.
Both parties have used the threat of a shutdown to try to score political points on budget issues. Spending bill deadlines have become one of the key mechanisms for leaders to force cooperation, regularly toying with thousands of federal workers and facilities in the process.
And unlike Portman, many Republican freshmen have used their new platforms to promote party messaging or more amorphous ideals instead of focusing on more specific, targeted legislative measures. But Portman’s résumé suggests he values a smoothly operating government; he is a former House Member and a former Office of Management and Budget director and U.S. trade representative under President George W. Bush.
The End Government Shutdowns Act would create a 120-day automatic stopgap bill, or continuing resolution, at current spending levels if regular appropriations bills are not approved by the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year. After that four-month period, if Congress has still failed to act, the CR levels would be reduced by 1 percent every 90 days.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.