PORTLAND —  Sen. Olympia Snowe called for regulatory reforms and an overhaul of the nation’s tax structure at a business breakfast Friday at the Holiday Inn by the Bay.

“We need to foster economic expansion that will expand the private sector, not the size of government. … We are at a tipping point,” Snowe, R-Maine, told a crowd of several hundred at the monthly Eggs & Issues event, which was sponsored by the Portland Regional Chamber.

Snowe, a ranking member on the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, said lawmakers’ priority must be job creation, noting that the U.S. unemployment rate has been 9 percent or higher for 27 of the past 32 months.

“The promise of America has always been that you have the dignity of a job,” she said.

Snowe emphasized the threat of the federal budget deficit and criticized government as “expansionist,” noting new legislation like the health care bill.

She said the troubled economy has cost small businesses roughly $2 trillion in lost profits and assets since December 2007. Government figures show that fewer entrepreneurs launched businesses in the 12 months ending in March than in any similar period in the past 10 years.

Meanwhile, Snowe said, China’s economy may surpass the U.S. economy in five years. “This is not the American peoples’ vision for America,” she said.

Snowe outlined a three-part recovery plan, including a constitutional amendment requiring a federal balanced budget, which she said would stabilize finances and create continuity across congressional sessions.

She appealed for reform of the roughly 82,000 pages of regulations on federal books in 2010, which she called an “albatross around this economy.”

Snowe also called for an extensive tax structure overhaul, noting that America has the second-highest corporate tax burden in the industrialized world.

Asked if she supports higher taxes for wealthy Americans, Snowe said, “Piecemeal tax increases undermine comprehensive tax reform. We should look at the tax code in its entirety.”

Michael Barndollar, development director at The Iris Network, a group for the visually impaired, asked Snowe to support measures to create new jobs at nonprofit groups, which he said employ 10 percent of Mainers.

“There is nothing being discussed to spur jobs in the nonprofit sector,” he said in an interview after Snowe’s remarks. “(Snowe) said she wants to talk about it.”

Some attendees said Snowe appeared frustrated by the partisanship in Washington. Others questioned the wisdom of rolling back regulations.

“A lot of regulation … comes out of abuses that have taken place,” said Peter Gartland of FirstLight HomeCare of Southern Maine, in an interview. “It’s easy to take a shot at them, but you need to look at why they are created.”

Snowe said the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has spawned offshoots like Occupy Maine, signifies Americans’ frustration with Congress and their dwindling confidence in politics.

“(This is) a message to us to solve problems, not dither like there is no urgency,” she said.

Snowe’s comments Friday came as the “supercommittee” of 12 lawmakers in Washington searches for $1.2 trillion in federal budget savings over 10 years. Their deadline is Thanksgiving.

On Thursday, Snowe and other Republican members of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee submitted debt reduction proposals to the supercommittee. The proposals included changing health care policy to reduce costs, simplifying tax codes, regulatory reform, and trimming Small Business Administration programs.

Also this week, Snowe voted against President Obama’s $447 billion jobs bill. Although she supported some parts of the bill, which the Senate voted down, she called it a “take-it-or-leave-it package” that would increase taxes on small-business owners.

On Wednesday, Snowe voted for a free trade treaty with Panama, but against Colombian and South Korean treaties, which she said threatened U.S. jobs.

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or: [email protected]