Creating Economic Opportunity & Retirement Security for Ohio Families
When Senator Portman ran for the Senate in 2010, he campaigned on a jobs plan, a key component of which was tax reform. He promised to help lead an effort to reform our tax code and provide relief to families and small businesses. In the 115th Congress, he delivered on this commitment, and Portman has seen firsthand how Ohio companies are responding by creating more jobs, increasing wages, paying bonuses, making additional investments in plants and equipment, and expanding health care and retirement benefits. In addition to tax reform, Portman worked on a number of measures to help create jobs, level the playing field for Ohio workers, and make Ohio businesses more competitive.
Senator Portman played a leading role in helping craft the landmark tax reform that was signed into law on December 22, 2017. Portman worked throughout the process to develop and help improve the bill. Throughout the debate, Portman focused consistently on ensuring that the middle class would get a significant tax cut while also expanding the child tax credit, and he was successful in doing so. Reforms to the business tax code are an essential component of this tax reform law, especially lowering rates for small businesses. These pro-growth reforms are helping to grow our economy, create more jobs, and make America more competitive with our foreign counterparts by leveling the playing field for American companies and workers.
Portman, who is the co-founder of the Senate Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus continued his strong support for expanding skills training to help close the skills gap and ensure that Ohioans are ready for the jobs available today. As part of his efforts, Portman joined Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) in introducing the bipartisan JOBS Act which will make high-quality and rigorous short-term job training programs more affordable by expanding access to Pell Grants for low-income students. Portman has toured Ohio meeting with community colleges, educators, workforce development officials and others to receive input and highlight the importance of this bill, which is supported by the Trump administration and was included in its budget request. Portman is working to include the measure as part of congressional efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.
Ensuring a Secure Retirement for Hardworking Americans
Portman believes that every American should have the opportunity to save for a safe, secure retirement. In February 2019, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) selected Portman to lead the committee’s Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions and Family Policy.
He helped spearhead Senate passage of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, which was approved as a part of the final FY 2020 funding bill and was signed into law on December 20, 2019. The SECURE Act includes reforms sponsored by Portman designed to help more Americans save for their retirement, including marquee provisions to encourage small businesses to offer retirement plans to their workers, ensure millions of part-time employees can access 401(k) plans, and increase the age for required minimum distributions from 70 and a half to 72. The SECURE Act also includes Portman’s Retirement Security Preservation Act, which would reform pension nondiscrimination laws to prevent more than 450,000 Americans from having their pensions frozen in January. Additional provisions in the bipartisan Retirement Security & Savings Act, which Portman introduced with Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), are also included in the SECURE Act.
Enactment of the SECURE Act paves the way for Senate action on Portman’s bipartisan Retirement Security & Savings Act, a broad set of reforms designed to strengthen Americans’ retirement security by addressing four major opportunities in the existing retirement system. (1) allowing people who have saved too little to set more aside for their retirement; (2) helping small businesses offer 401(k)s and other retirement plans; (3) expanding access to retirement savings plans for low-income Americans without coverage; and (4) providing more certainty and flexibility during Americans’ retirement years. The measure includes more than 50 provisions to accomplish these objectives. It has received widespread support from key stakeholders. While the recently-signed SECURE Act includes a number of provisions of the Retirement Security & Savings Act, this broader retirement measure will do more to reform our outdated laws to help Americans save more for their retirement.
In August 2019, Portman introduced the bipartisan Retirement Security Preservation Act to protect the retirement security of American workers in closed defined benefit plans. The bill modernizes the pension nondiscrimination rules that apply to these single-employer pension plans to protect more 450,000 older, longer-serving workers from having their benefits frozen by the end of the year through no fault of their own. This legislation was included in the final FY 2020 funding bill and signed into law on December 20, 2019.
Expanding Markets for Ohio Farmers & Small Businesses
As a former U.S. Trade Representative, Portman continues to be a leading voice in the Senate on trade policy, working to ensure a level playing field for American workers and create more jobs for Ohio farmers and small businesses. This year, he worked to advance those priorities in a number of ways, including:
- Taking a leading role in rallying Congress to approve the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which was approved by the House in December 2019, and passed the Senate in January 2020. The agreement will strengthen our economy and support American workers, farmers, and manufacturers. Portman supports the more modern USMCA to the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in part because it includes new and enforceable environmental and labor standards, a new section on digital trade, expanded opportunities for agricultural trade, and new opportunities for auto jobs in America.
- In July 2019, Portman sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer urging him to remove proposed tariffs on 96 products because of the harmful impact it will have on U.S. importers, manufacturing, and the economy. These same tariffs were removed from the list during the last supplemental trade action proposed by the administration.
- In February 2019, Portman introduced the Trade Security Act, legislation that will reform Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to better align the statute with its original intent as a trade remedy tool for the president and Congress to respond to genuine threats to national security. In keeping with the original intent of Section 232, this bill makes common-sense reforms that require the Department of Defense to justify the national security basis for new tariffs under Section 232 and increase congressional oversight of this process.
- In addition to his work on the Leveling the Playing Field Act for Ohio steelworkers, Portman has continued to fight to protect manufacturing jobs in the state. In June 2019, Portman testified before the International Trade Commission (ITC) to fight on behalf of Ohio Whirlpool workers against unfair trade practices. Portman is continuing his efforts to level the playing field for Whirlpool and its 10,000 Ohio workers, including the more than 3,000 workers at Whirlpool’s largest American factory in Clyde, Ohio. The plant had been hurt by unfair washing machine imports by Samsung and LG.
- In October 2019, Portman joined his Senate colleagues in sending a bipartisan letter to letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, asking him to prioritize reducing steel overcapacity. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) created the Global Forum on Steel Excess Capacity in 2016 the help promote diplomatic engagement on the subject of steel overcapacity. It has created opportunities for the United States to organize coalitions of like-minded countries on the importance of holding countries, primarily China, accountable for overcapacity of steel products.
Encouraging Broadband & Infrastructure Development in Rural Areas
In December 2019, the Senate passed Portman’s legislation – the Revitalizing Underdeveloped Rural Areas and Lands (RURAL) Act – to preserve jobs and encourage infrastructure development by expanding tax-exempt cooperative organizations’ access to government grants and assistance, including rural broadband grants and FEMA disaster relief. This legislation provides certainty for co-ops looking to utilize government resources to provide critical services to their members, such as broader access to high-speed internet or repairs to the electrical grid. This legislation was included in the final FY 2020 funding bill and signed into law on December 20, 2019.
Promoting Opportunity Zones to Help Revitalize Struggling Communities
Portman fought to include “Opportunity Zones” in the final tax law, and it has the potential to boost investments and jobs in struggling communities throughout Ohio. The state of Ohio designated 320 low-income census tracts across the state as Opportunity Zones, which allows investors and companies to defer paying capital gains taxes on investments in exchange for committing to invest that additional money into Opportunity Zones long-term, for 10 years or more. Money invested through this program may be used to start new businesses or invest in existing ones. In February 2019, Portman participated in an Opportunity Zone roundtable hosted by the Greater Cleveland Partnership. Cuyahoga County will benefit from Opportunity Zone designations. Portman participated in an Opportunity Zone and Tax Reform roundtable with the Uptown Consortium in June 2019. Hamilton County is poised to benefit from Opportunity Zone designations. In August 2019, Portman participated in a roundtable on Opportunity Zones in Columbus, Ohio hosted at Gravity, a new development in Franklinton that features apartments, offices, restaurants and event space, which will also benefit from Opportunity Zone designations.
Protecting Worker Pensions
Senator Portman continues to lead efforts to reform the multiemployer pension system that, if left unaddressed, will leave tens of thousands of workers and retirees with a fraction of their promised retirement benefits. Portman chaired a recent Senate Finance Committee briefing on the multiemployer pension problem with experts, including the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), the federal government entity that insures pension plans. After the briefing, Portman, along with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), issued a joint statement on their shared commitment to working on bipartisan legislation to resolve this issue. In March 2019, Portman introduced the bipartisan Pension Accountability Act (S. 833) to help protect Ohioans from having their hard-earned pensions cut with no say in the process. The bill will give workers and retirees a seat at the table when a looming multiemployer pension bankruptcy may require major pension cuts.
Protecting American Taxpayers
Portman has a long history of working to reform the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and secured key reforms to the agency last year. In June 2019, the House of Representatives passed the Taxpayer First Act, which includes a number of Portman legislative priorities that were included as part of the Protecting Taxpayers Act that he introduced in 2018. The Senate passed the legislation in June 2019 and was signed into law on July 1.
Specifically, the House-passed bill includes more than a dozen of Senator Portman’s IRS reform priorities that were included in his Protecting Taxpayers Act, including provisions that:
- Preserve the IRS Oversight Board so that Congress can work to reconstitute the Board and have it work in the way it was originally designed to help set the long term strategic direction of the agency;
- Establish an Independent Office of Appeals and strengthen taxpayers’ right to an appeal, including full notice and protest procedures and open access to case files;
- Direct the IRS to develop a comprehensive training strategy for their employees to foster a stronger culture at the agency and reinforce taxpayer rights;
- Require the IRS to issue uniform guidance for the use of electronic signatures (which was also included in Portman’s Electronic Signatures Standards Act);
- Reauthorize streamlined critical pay authority for IRS IT employees to make it easier to hire the best technical staffers needed to overhaul the IRS IT infrastructure;
- Protect low-income taxpayers by permanently authorizing, and authorizing additional funding for, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program;
- Codify low-income taxpayer exceptions from fee waivers and lump sum payments associated with IRS payment plans;
- Direct the IRS to issue procedures for when direct deposits of tax refunds are sent to the wrong account; and
- Modify the IRS’s legal authority to issue a designated summons, or a summons that freezes the statute of limitations for taxpayers, to ensure this enforcement tool is only used for uncooperative taxpayers.
Improving Education Opportunities for Ex-Offenders
In September 2019, Portman announced new bipartisan, bicameral legislation to address a systematic injustice within the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). The AOTC is the primary tax credit available to students seeking a higher education; however, students with a prior felony drug conviction are permanently ineligible from using the credit. This backwards requirement makes it more difficult to ensure successful reentry for those who have served their time by limiting their ability to advance their education and pursue a career. The Members’ Eliminating Discrimination and Creating Corridors to Expand Student Success Act (ED ACCESS Act) would fix this inequity by repealing the lifetime ban.