On CNBC, Portman Outlines Plan To Responsibly Pay For Needed Infrastructure Upgrades

April 20, 2021 | Portman Difference

During an interview this morning on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Senator Portman discussed the need for a bipartisan infrastructure agreement as well as the economic consequences of the tax hikes proposed by Senate Democrats and the Biden Administration. 

Portman supports improving America’s aging roads, bridges, ports, and other infrastructure; however, he noted that more than $2 trillion of President Biden’s proposal funds policy priorities that are a far cry from what has ever been considered infrastructure.

Portman also highlighted a forthcoming legislative proposal he is working on to define cryptocurrency for tax purposes and provide information reporting requirements, which would aid in efforts to close the tax gap.

The transcript of the interview can be found below and you can watch the interview here. 

PORTMAN ON NEED FOR BIPARTISANSHIP IN INFRASTRUCTURE NEGOTIATIONS

“The rhetoric of the campaign and even the inaugural address was, We want to bring people together.’  And President Biden has said that. But the action certainly hasn’t matched it. With regard to the COVID-19 bill, as you know, Democrats chose to use reconciliation, meaning they didn’t need Republican votes. And so they didn’t get any. And they put it through in a way that was not focused on COVID-19.

“They’re doing it again with infrastructure because the proposal, $2.7 trillion only has about 20 percent, if you use a generous definition of infrastructure. Less than five percent is for roads and bridges. So it seems like they’re heading down the same track. But on the other hand, they’re starting to say that they’d like to work with us. We’d love to. We’ve got some ideas. We think, one, you start with real infrastructure. That kind of makes sense if you’re doing an infrastructure package. And two you come up with ways to pay for it that aren’t going to hurt American workers, which is exactly what their tax hikes would do.”

PORTMAN OUTLINES POTENTIAL OPTIONS TO PAY FOR INFRASTRUCTURE BILL  

“Well, Becky, first of all, if you start off with something like 20 percent of the package, which is what, again, generously speaking, would be infrastructure, that would include water infrastructure, it would include things like broadband expansion. It would include things that maybe haven’t traditionally been in infrastructure, but could be considered infrastructure – that’s a good start, because then your pay-fors are less.

“Second, obviously, there already is a user fee out there, which is the gas tax and other excise taxes – that could pay for about half of it. And for the rest of it, I mean, there’s some great ideas. One would be to actually use some of the money that was in COVID-19, much of which, as you know, has not gone out the door yet. The majority of it has not been spent. Our state of Ohio, other states and municipalities, counties and so on, are looking for ways to spend this money, as you know, $350 billion, and a lot would like to spend it on infrastructure.

“Well, perhaps there’s a way to spend some of that money on infrastructure as part of this legislation and then perhaps have the local match, which is usually about 20 – so it’s 80 percent federal funding, 20 percent local – have that match go up some and that would provide some of the funding to help with this new infrastructure. I know there are a lot of states interested in that as well as localities, because, again, they’d like to have the flexibility to use this money for crumbling infrastructure. I think that’s a really interesting idea.

“Second is electric vehicles. Why should they not pay anything for the use of our roads and bridges, or hybrids, for that matter. Being the owner of a hybrid pickup truck, you know, I should pay something in addition to what I’m paying for the gas. So that’s another idea. Vehicle Miles Traveled is something that’s been talked about, particularly with regard to electric vehicles. And a lot of the trucking companies are interested in that as long as the money goes towards real infrastructure, roads and bridges and so on.

“So there’s ways to put this together. There’s also, as you know, interest among some to invest in infrastructure, so-called PPP or public-private partnerships. That’s another way to do it. So there are ways to do this without hurting America’s competitiveness and hurting American workers, which is what the tax increases would do.”

PORTMAN ON THE ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES OF TAX HIKES

“I don’t know about Leon, but I do know that it’s very likely you’re going to see additional proposals for tax increases. This is what President Biden has pledged. He has said that it will be only for higher-income individuals, but as you know, our pass-throughs, which are 90 percent of the businesses in America, pay their taxes as individuals. So it’s going to hurt those small businesses and it’s going to hurt our economy. And, you know, so far it’s corporate taxes, which makes us non-competitive. 

“After we finally got competitive, after we finally put in place tax provisions that increased investment in the United States, $1.6 trillion of earnings came back from overseas before COVID-19 and after the tax bill was passed. We also had increases in R&D, a 25 percent increase in research and development among America’s biggest companies and a 20 percent improvement in infrastructure spending for companies. In other words, for companies themselves putting more money into capital assets. This is all good stuff. We also had the lowest poverty rate in the history of our country and unemployment at 3.5 percent and the 19th straight month with 3 percent or more wage growth in February before COVID. So things were going well and some of it was attributed to the tax relief and the tax reform. So I hope we don’t go down that path, Andrew, because I think it would be exactly the wrong thing to do as we try to recover from the pandemic.”

PORTMAN ON FORTHCOMING LEGISLATION ADDRESSING CRYPTOCURRENCY

“Well, we’re still working on it. I probably shouldn’t have talked about it at a hearing a couple weeks ago because we don’t have the final bill yet. But the idea is to have better information reporting on cryptocurrency and to define it better for tax purposes. There is, as we heard a few weeks ago at this hearing, a trillion-dollar tax gap right now. Some of that tax gap is attributable to the cryptocurrency issue, not certainly all of it, or even most of it.

“But that’s one of the issues that, you know, Republicans and Democrats alike are interested in pursuing… We’re still pulling information in. But I do think that’s one of the issues we ought to be addressing to try to close that tax gap. The tax gap, meaning taxes that aren’t being collected. Think about that. If we could have more of that tax coming in, we wouldn’t have to be talking so much about these pay-fors because we’d have more revenue coming into the Treasury from people who do owe taxes.”

….

“Well, I think it’s both, Becky. I think primarily it’s a lack of information reporting, which always historically worked to help increase compliance. And so I think that’s part of it is just a reporting requirement, perhaps a new form. But we’re looking at all these issues and trying to figure out the best way forward.”

PORTMAN TOUTS SAFETY AND EFFICACY OF COVID-19 VACCINES 

“Yeah, take the shot, I mean, I think it’s incredibly important for my constituents and for their families, but also for the broader community that people get vaccinated and we’re making progress. The progress has slowed a little bit recently. And so I think there’s a need for us to do more outreach and to let people know these vaccines are safe, they’re effective. In Ohio you can get the Moderna or the Pfizer vaccine, if you’re over 16, just show up. There’re actually appointments that are open right now. So I’m encouraging people to move forward. I did join the trial early on because I wanted to encourage more people to get into the trials.  

“They needed more participants, but also to show people that I believed it was worth doing this to keep my family safe and to help keep our broader community safe. And you’re right, it’s less than 10 individuals. They tend to be women. It tends to happen right after the shot, as I understand it. And these were blood clots. But that’s out of millions. You said six to seven million. I don’t know the number right now globally, but it’s millions of people. So I’m confident that the FDA and others in the scientific community are doing the research and doing the background to be sure that every potential issue is addressed so that the J&J vaccine is safe as well. But in the meantime, the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines are out there in Ohio and around the country. And let’s get vaccinated. Let’s move on to a more normal life where we can get back to school and back to work and back to going out. So my hope is that people will take advantage of it.”                                                                                                                                                                  

PORTMAN ON REFORMING THE IRS

“Yeah, I absolutely agree. And I’ve been consistent on that since, I don’t know, 15 years ago, when I was involved in the IRS reform efforts. If you’re a small business person in America, you want to have somebody competent who’s going to show up at your doorstep. If you’re going to get audited and the person is overworked and not properly trained or qualified, it’s a problem. So I think it’s important to provide adequate resources, including to provide better taxpayer service, because when you call the IRS or when you’re emailing with the IRS trying to get information, it’s very difficult.

“And by the way, that leads to less collection. If somebody can’t get through and can’t get the answers, that person understandably is frustrated and may not be paying the full amount due. Yeah, let’s provide better services, provide more professionalism, and let’s be sure the tax system works better. I’ve never quite understood this argument that it’s better to cut the IRS budget because it doesn’t help my constituents who have to deal with the tax collector. You might as well do it in a more professional, efficient way. So, yeah, I’m for that. And I think it would help in terms of collections.”

 

###