By LINDA HALL
WOOSTER -- Congressman Jim Renacci said one of the lessons he has learned during his six months in Washington, D.C., is nobody shows up on time for meetings, making him, a punctual person, "the loneliest man (there)."
He also discovered at least one issue is a bigger problem than he thought.
"I was concerned about the debt. I was concerned about the spending," Renacci told a cross section of community members meeting at the chapel on the campus of The Village Network on Tuesday afternoon.
"The numbers were much, much worse," he said. "When I see them, I get scared."
The third thing he has discovered is the conduct of business is "extremely political."
But the problems being tackled don't belong to one party or the other. "They're American problems," he said.
His approach, he said, is not to "throw hand grenades at the other side," but rather to meet with a small group of fellow representatives on a nonpartisan basis to try hammering out potential solutions.
"I'm encouraged by your comments about working together across the aisle," said John Kropf, an attorney, during the question and answer period. "I think that's what Americans want," but not necessarily what the leadership would like.
In general, "the first job of the minority is to become the majority," Renacci said. "I hope we can get past that."
Perhaps things are getting better, at least in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Because of Republican House Speaker John Boehner's determination to allow everyone the opportunity to speak, "you'll see some of these deliberations go on into the middle of the night," Renacci said.
In Renacci's opinion, the prevailing attitude of legislators serving in Washington, D.C., for less than a decade, is "want(ing) to get things done. They're not down there for a career."
Mayor Bob Breneman asked if there is anything at the federal level that will "roll out" into the local community, for example, community development block grants.
"The federal government is broke," Renacci said.
To get spending down, what has to be fixed is entitlements, Renacci said, seeing little hope for improving the spending problem without dealing with those.
Medicare, he said, was set up based on a lower life expectancy, but with Americans living longer, people are putting into the system just about $109,000 over their lifetime, but taking out $340,000.
No one wants to get rid of Medicare but rather to strengthen it, Renacci said, stressing at the rate it is being used today, it will be gone in nine to 10 years.
In discussions on cutting down on spending, "everything is on the table," Renacci emphasized, including defense, which also has waste.
Speaking to financial regulatory reform, Renacci said, "We need regulations, but we need regulators."
"The more regulations you throw out there, the more you pay," he pointed out. "Business owners are going to pass (the costs) on."
All regulations shouldn't be eliminated, just over-reaching ones, according to Renacci.
"Health care for everybody is in flux," Breneman said, asking Renacci what the status of health care reform is.
It deals with the need for "certainty and predictability," Renacci said, noting businesses aren't going to hire employees if they don't know what all of their responsibilities, including the cost of providing health care, are.
"Business owners are just frozen up," said Renacci, who voted to repeal the health care bill.
"I think there are some good things in the health care bill; I think there are some horrible things in the health care bill," he added. "Quite frankly, we have to fix costs. (It) did nothing to fix costs."
As a prolific businessman, "I've never (before) seen a 62 percent increase in health care," he said.
The health care bill's ultimate demise is unlikely in it is President Obama's "signature legislation," Renacci said. Unless the Senate and the president stop it, "it's moving forward."
Renacci also was asked about potential Republican candidates for the 2012 presidential election.
"I think it's way too early (to speculate)," he said.
The same issues continue to be brought up in community meetings, Renacci said following the event, including uncertainty and burdensome regulations.
Renacci said at this point he didn't know what he could do to impact funding for The Village Network.
Although "we have a two-year moratorium on earmarks," he said, he would be willing to help the organization work with dollars already coming in.
"I see good things happening (here)," he said.
Of education overall, Renacci said, "I am a strong supporter."
Conversations with school district personnel have been "enlightening," he said, noting Washington, D.C. "doesn't know how to teach children in Wayne County ... or Florida." The educators who are "hands-on" should make the decisions.
A diverse group of community members, from bankers to attorneys and representatives of "the main economic driver organizations" were invited to The Village Network to talk to Renacci, Greg Long, a TVN corporation member, said.
"We're sitting here in Wooster, but we really do care about what's going on (in Washington, D.C.)," said Main Street Wooster Director Sandra Hull.
And Jim Miller, the executive director of TVN, wants to keep Renacci apprised of what is going on in Wooster, in particular at The Village Network.
The fact Renacci visited the campus during his campaign demonstrated his foresight, Miller said. "That speaks well for him."
Former Congressman Ralph Regula was "a huge supporter (of TVN)," Long said, expressing hope Renacci will be as well.
Miller wants government support for programs that are working.
Keeping successful programs working is a goal to pursue, according to Renacci.