Portman Defending Romney Calls Job Losses ‘Capitalism’

Ohio Senator Rob Portman downplayed the political impact of job cuts linked to Mitt Romney’s former private-equity firm and a $2 billion trading loss at JPMorgan Chase & Co., calling them examples of “capitalism” that shouldn’t affect the election or financial regulation.

Portman, a potential running mate for Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, also sought to deflect questions about his prospects for joining the party’s ticket, calling himself “better suited” to stay in the Senate.

“I think I’m better suited to stay where I am in the Senate,” Portman said at a Bloomberg View luncheon yesterday in New York, declining to answer questions about whether he is letting himself be vetted for the vice presidential spot on the Republican ticket.

Still, Portman, 56, defended Romney’s business record, dismissing an advertising offensive by President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign that highlights job losses at a steel mill that was taken over in 1993 by Bain Capital LLC, the Boston-based private-equity firm Romney co-founded and led. The mill, GST Steel, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001.

“You know, that is capitalism,” Portman said. “There are not different kinds of capitalism; there’s the free market, and he can show where his efforts, net, created 100,000-plus jobs -- that’s pretty good,” Portman said of Romney.

‘Rush Headlong’

Portman said the trading loss disclosed May 10 by JPMorgan shouldn’t be a reason to “rush headlong” into implementing measures under the Dodd-Frank Act aimed at strengthening financial regulation.

“That’s capitalism. They made a mistake,” Portman said of the loss at JPMorgan, the biggest U.S. bank, adding that taxpayers won’t foot the bill.

In the wake of the loss, JPMorgan said Chief Investment Officer Ina Drew will retire. The bank may lose an additional $1 billion or more as it winds down the trading position.

Portman questioned a provision of Dodd-Frank named for former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker meant to bar proprietary trading by banks with federally insured deposits.

“I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be any regulation in terms of derivatives, or in terms of proprietary trading,” Portman said. “I do think the way Volcker is being implemented would be hugely problematic.”

Romney, 65, has yet to comment on the JPMorgan loss. He has called for repeal of Dodd-Frank, saying it should be replaced with more limited, less-burdensome regulation.

Legislative Ally

Adding Portman to the ticket could give Romney an advantage in Ohio, a political battleground state won by former President George W. Bush in 2004 and by Obama in 2008. The state has backed the White House winner in 12 consecutive elections, the longest active streak among the 50 states, and no Republican has been elected president without carrying it.

While Portman shied away from the speculation about his chances as a running mate, he pointed to his experience working across party lines in Congress, where he also served from 1993 to 2005 in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“I’ve spent a career on the legislative side getting things done,” Portman said, saying he had authored 12 bills that were signed into law by former President Bill Clinton, “which makes Republicans nervous sometimes, to hear that.”

Portman, a first-term senator who headed the U.S. Office of Management and Budget under Bush, said he sees his role as a legislative ally should Romney win the White House, helping the former Massachusetts governor push his agenda through Congress.

Even with Romney as president, he said, “it would be very difficult to get anything done given the dysfunction of the United States Congress.”

Portman, who also was U.S. Trade Representative under Bush, said Obama has been “way too weak on exports” to China, criticizing the president for failing to seek fast-track trade negotiation authority from Congress.

“We are sitting on the sidelines while the rest of the world moves forward and takes away our markets,” Portman said.

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