WEIRTON - U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson found himself in unfamiliar territory Wednesday - a chemical distribution company at the south end of Weirton.
Johnson, R-Marietta, shrugged off the incongruity of an Ohio congressman stumping in the Mountain State, saying he goes where his constituents go.
"SAL Chemical employs a lot of people from the 6th District of Ohio, so I have a very keen interest in their success," he said prior to touring the plant, located in Weirton's Half Moon Industrial Park. "A lot of folks who work here live across the river, in my district, so it's an important part of Ohio's economy."
Johnson said it's no secret over-regulation is crippling the economy, pointing to the $1.7 trillion a year regulatory burden the nation's business community currently bears.
"That makes it pretty tough to get an economy going when you've got more regulations coming out every day, stopping business growth here in America," he said. "It should be the opposite, we should be encouraging business growth not being a burden to it."
Likewise, he said the price tag for the new health care law could cripple the business community.
"I talk with business owners up and down the river here, trying to figure out how they're faring, what pressures they're under, what's preventing them from growing, expanding and hiring, how the health care law is affecting them," he said.
"I hear repeatedly the health care law has a stranglehold on America's businesses. Forty percent of American businesses say that law is why they can't grow and expand their business. I met with one today ... that said companies like them are starting to think it can be more financially advantageous to pay the penalties than to provide employees with health insurance. We're heading for a catastrophe if we're not successful in repealing the health care law."
And Johnson said fixing the economy is a priority: Of the 27 counties with the highest unemployment in Ohio, he said 14 are in his 6 th District.
"That's not very good," he said. "Is there the promise of opportunity? Absolutely. We've got the Marcellus and Utica, the expansion of the oil and gas industry, what's happening up and down the river around domestic energy production, that's a big deal. There are opportunities coming if we can keep EPA and other federal agencies from trying to throw up roadblocks."
He said Ohio has been regulating the oil and gas industry since 1965, "and doing it very effectively."
"We don't need EPA coming in and adding another layer of regulations on top of that," he said. "We've already got a real serious problem with energy: We've got skyrocketing energy costs as a result of the coal industry, the shutdown of coal-fired plants, and we've got manufacturing facilities that can't afford to pay their electric bills. Rising utility costs are putting the squeeze on America's manufacturing community, then we wonder how our manufacturing and why our manufacturing continue to go overseas."
He said the U.S. "has got enough coal in this country to fill America's energy needs for generations."
"We simply need the federal government to stay out of the way and let the private sector" work, he said, adding that Congress "still has a long way to go in terms of regulatory and tax reforms that will empower business owners."
He figures jobs, the economy and the health care law will be on the minds of voters come November.
"The people in my district want to work, they want their kids to be able to graduate from college and find jobs here at home," he said. "We've got an economy where 50 percent of college grads are either unemployed or under-employed. They want their kids to stay here and get jobs."