WASHINGTON — Ohio Sen. Rob Portman faced more than a dozen hecklers Tuesday morning at the "Fix The Debt" conference in Washington, protesting against Republican plans to address the fiscal cliff.
Portman, a former head of the Office of Management and Budget, was at the conference to speak briefly about reforming the tax code, but as soon as he took the microphone, four Ohio constituents spoke up in sequence from different sections of the audience about the importance of Medicare and Social Security to their lives.
After they finished, Portman asked "anyone else before we get started." Two more hecklers spoke up, including one girl who said she was from Washington State.
"My great grandfather died fighting for Social Security," she said, listing all of the old people she knows who need entitlement programs, before being escorted out of the conference.
As she left, all of the hecklers — and several activists who did not speak up — marched out of the conference chanting "We want to grow — not slow — the economy!"
Portman then began his remarks, joking, "They just gave my speech. I want to grow, not slow, the economy. We may disagree how to do it."
After his remarks, Portman met with four of the protestors who were Ohio residents for more than 20 minutes at a table in the hotel lobby.
"I meet with constituents all the time," Portman said, adding he told an apologetic organizer, "It's my job."
"They said we shouldn't be cutting more taxes for the wealthy, and I said, that's not the discussion," Portman recounted of his discussion, which ended in a group picture and a collective chant of "OH-IO".
In his shortened remarks to the conference, Portman gave a full-throated endorsement to GOP proposals to reforming the tax code, saying if Congress doesn't act now, the fiscal cliff will just return again. He said the process would likely take six months to accomplish, but said there is a growing consensus as to the outlines of what the reform should look like.
"It would be squandering a great opportunity for us not to take on pro-growth tax reform as part of this process, as well as the necessary entitlement reforms," he told BuzzFeed, not addressing Democratic demands to raise tax rates for the wealthy. "For us to make it past the cliff without dealing with these issues just puts us back on the cliff."