Rob’s Rundown: Week of January 10 - January 14, 2022
Senator Portman was back in Washington this week where, on Thursday, he voted to impose sanctions on companies and individuals responsible for the planning, construction and operation of the Kremlin-financed Nord Stream 2 pipeline (NS2) project that would carry natural gas from Russia to Europe. Portman has been a vocal critic of the pipeline and believes that imposing sanctions is critical to preserving Europe’s energy security and defending Ukraine against the threat of Russian invasion.
During Thursday’s Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing to consider nominees to serve on the Civil Rights Cold Case Records Review Board, Portman pressed the nominees on the importance of this review board to balance public disclosure and privacy interests as these civil rights cold case records are reviewed. Portman questioned the nominees on the proper handling of the Board’s authorities to issue subpoenas and request the Attorney General to petition courts for sealed information if the need arises.
On Wednesday, the Senate approved Portman’s bipartisan State and Local Government Cybersecurity Act, which will promote stronger cybersecurity coordination between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and state and local governments. This bipartisan legislation will encourage federal cybersecurity experts to share information regarding cybersecurity threats, vulnerabilities, and breaches, as well as resources to prevent and recover from cyberattacks, with states and localities who are increasingly targeted by bad actors. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Finally, Portman took to Twitter to express his satisfaction with the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down President Biden’s vaccine mandate. Portman noted that he has long been a vocal proponent of the vaccines, and even participated in the J&J trial to show people that they were safe and effective. However, he has real concerns about any national mandate imposed by the federal government on private sector employers, especially when Congress has not given the administration the authority to impose one.
For a more detailed look at Senator Portman’s week, please see the following:
Wednesday, January 12, 2022
Senate Passes Portman, Peters Bipartisan Legislation to Strengthen Cybersecurity Coordination with State and Local Governments
Senators Rob Portman and Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member and Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, announced that their bipartisan State and Local Government Cybersecurity Act, which will promote stronger cybersecurity coordination between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and state and local governments, has passed the Senate. This bipartisan legislation will encourage federal cybersecurity experts to share information regarding cybersecurity threats, vulnerabilities, and breaches, as well as resources to prevent and recover from cyberattacks, with states and localities who are increasingly targeted by bad actors. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.
“As we’ve seen from the many recent cyberattacks, hackers with malicious intent can and do attack state and local cyber infrastructure consistently. Sometimes, state and local governments need some additional help or access to expertise to address these threats,” said Senator Portman. “That’s why I’m pleased the Senate passed this bipartisan bill to strengthen an existing relationship between the Department of Homeland Security and state and local partners to improve coordination and information sharing to help protect our IT infrastructure at all levels of government.”
Portman, Brown Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Name Avondale Cincinnati Post Office for Ohio World War II Aviators
Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced bipartisan legislation to name the Avondale Cincinnati Post Office for two Ohio World War II aviators, John H. Leahr and Herbert M. Heilbrun.
John Leahr and Herbert Heilbrun both flew for the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II. Leahr was a Fighter Squadron P-51 Mustang pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen and Heilbrun was a B-17 bomber pilot. The Tuskegee Airmen escorted American bomber groups in Europe during World War II, and the two men flew on some of the same missions. They did not get to know each other, however, until 1997 when Heilburn attended a reunion of the Tuskegee Airmen to thank the unit for its work protecting his bomber. Leahr and Heilbrun discovered they had much in common. They were in the same elementary school class in North Avondale. They volunteered for the Army Air Corps after Pearl Harbor and worked in the same airplane engine factory while awaiting training. They even had similar career paths after the war. Leahr and Heilbrun became friends and dedicated their later years to sharing their experiences in World War II and promoting interracial understanding and unity. The Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations honored them for their work in 2003, and their story is recounted in the 2007 book Black and White Airmen: Their True History.
This bipartisan legislation has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives and was introduced in the House by Congressmen Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) and Steve Chabot (R-OH) and co-sponsored by the entire Ohio delegation.
“I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to name the Avondale Cincinnati Post Office after John Leahr and Herbert Heilbrun. By naming the post office, we will honor the memory and lives of two incredible men who served our country during World War II and continued their public service long after their military service came to an end,” said Portman. “Their dedication to sharing their experiences in World War II and promoting interracial understanding and unity should serve as an inspiration to us all. Their service to Ohio and to our nation is something that should never be forgotten.”
Thursday, January 13, 2022
Portman Votes to Sanction Nord Stream 2 Pipeline
Senator Portman voted to impose sanctions on companies and individuals responsible for the planning, construction and operation of the Kremlin-financed Nord Stream 2 pipeline (NS2) project that would carry natural gas from Russia to Europe. In 2021, President Biden refused to impose congressionally-mandated sanctions on the Nord Stream holding company, which allowed the pipeline to be completed. The pipeline is not yet certified and will be unable to ship gas until it is, however certification of the pipeline would result in the loss of Ukraine as a major transit point for the delivery of natural gas to Europe while emboldening President Putin’s geopolitical leverage over the region through the control of natural gas supplies. Fifty-five senators among both parties supported the Protecting Europe's Energy Security Implementation Act but it failed to clear a 60-vote margin for passage. Senator Portman released the following statement:
“Russia is engaged in a massive military buildup threatening Ukraine and our European allies and has made it clear that they seek to impose their authoritarian vision on free democracies like Ukraine. This is the worst time to waive sanctions on a pipeline that will threaten the energy security of Europe and circumvent the transit routes through Ukraine. This would pave the way for President Putin to manipulate the supply of natural gas to Europe. Russia routinely uses its energy resources as a geopolitical weapon to extract concessions, most recently from the government of Moldova. There is no reason to believe that Russia won’t do so again to our allies and partners once the pipeline is certified.
“Congress should do everything in its power to ensure the pipeline is not certified and does not become operational. Sanctioning the individuals and companies involved in constructing the pipeline strengthens our negotiating hand by taking away a revenue stream that President Putin seeks to weaponize.”
Friday, January 14, 2022
Portman Highlights Importance of Civil Rights Cold Case Records Review Board at Nomination Hearing
Senator Rob Portman delivered opening remarks at a hearing to consider nominees to serve on the Civil Rights Cold Case Records Review Board. Portman highlighted the importance of this review board in providing information about these unsolved cases and the need to balance public disclosure and privacy interests as these civil rights cold case records are reviewed. A transcript of his opening statement can be found here and a video can be found here.
At HSGAC Hearing, Portman Presses Nominees on Importance of Balancing Public Disclosure & Privacy Protections on Civil Rights Cold Case Records Review Board
Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, at a hearing to consider nominees to serve on the Civil Rights Cold Case Records Review Board, pressed the nominees on the importance of this review board to balance public disclosure and privacy interests as these civil rights cold case records are reviewed. Portman questioned the nominees on the proper handling of the Board’s authorities to issue subpoenas and request the Attorney General to petition courts for sealed information if the need arises. In addition, Portman stressed the need for the nominees to demonstrate impartiality and objectivity in their roles on the Board if confirmed. A transcript of the questioning can be found here and a video can be found here.
The Senate passed two cyber-related bills Wednesday, one that would train feds who work in acquisition on how to manage cybersecurity risk in the supply chain, and another that would provide new federal resources to state and local governments under siege from ransomware actors and cyber criminals.
The Supply Chain Security Training Act would establish a training program within the General Services Administration for federal procurement employees that would “prepare such personnel to perform supply chain risk management activities and identify and mitigate supply chain security risks that arise throughout the acquisition lifecycle, including for the acquisition of information and communications technology.”
“Federal employees purchasing software and equipment for the government must be able to recognize vulnerabilities in these products that could allow hackers to breach federal systems and disrupt our supply chains,” Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., said in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation will help federal employees identify potential threats to federal cybersecurity, and stop foreign adversaries and cybercriminals as they attempt to compromise our national security.”
There are few other specifics outlined in the bill regarding the structure and content of such trainings. The GSA administrator would be charged with setting up a program within six months of the bill’s passage into law, and must coordinate with the Federal Acquisition Security Council, the secretary of Homeland Security, the director of the Office of Personnel Management and consult the directors of national intelligence and the National Institute for Standards and Technology while developing the program.
The State and Local Government Cybersecurity Act would amend the 2002 Homeland Security Act to allow the federal government — through the National Cybersecurity and Integrations Center at DHS — to conduct cybersecurity exercises with state and local entities and provide them access to technical tools and other assistance, like setting up information sharing programs. It would also clear the way for federal officials to coordinate with state, local, tribal and territorial entities to set up vulnerability disclosure programs, information sharing programs and improvements to election security infrastructure.
The legislation comes at a time when state and local governments, schools and law enforcement agencies across the country are facing a wave of ransomware attacks that have crippled IT systems, disrupted services and created long-term clean up and recovery issues.
“As we’ve seen from the many recent cyberattacks, hackers with malicious intent can and do attack state and local cyber infrastructure consistently. Sometimes, state and local governments need some additional help or access to expertise to address these threats,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a statement.
Both bills were introduced by Peters, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The State and Local Cybersecurity Government Act was also cosponsored by Portman and Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., while Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., also cosponsored the Supply Chain Security Training Act.
Both bills now head to the House, where companion versions have been introduced by Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., but have yet to pass through relevant committees or receive a floor vote.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are motivated to pass another major retirement security package in 2022, but with midterm elections looming in November, time is of the essence, retirement industry sources said.
Bipartisan bills were introduced in the House and Senate in 2021 that build on the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act, known as the SECURE Act, which Congress passed and was signed into law in late 2019.
Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Ben Cardin, D-Md., in May reintroduced the Retirement Security and Savings Act, which features more than 50 provisions aimed at getting people to save more for retirement. Provisions include increasing the tax credit for small business starting a new retirement plan, raising the "catch-up" contribution limits to $10,000 from $6,000 for individuals over 60 with 401(k) plans and allowing employers to make matching contributions to retirement accounts of employees paying off qualified student-loan debt.
"I have long championed retirement security legislation throughout my time in Congress and (in 2022) we have a great opportunity to give Americans more tools to have a safe and secure retirement," Mr. Portman said in a statement to Pensions & Investments. "Enacting the bipartisan Retirement Security & Savings Act will be a big priority and I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides to make it happen."
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., and ranking member Kevin Brady, R-Texas — reintroduced and advanced the Securing a Strong Retirement Act of 2021 through their committee in May. The bill shares many provisions with the Portman-Cardin bill, but notably includes a provision that would require 401(k), 403(b) and SIMPLE IRA plans to automatically enroll participants upon becoming eligible. The bill's auto-enrollment provision initially enrolls participants at a floor of 3% of pay, and that contribution is then increased by 1 percentage point each year until it reaches 10%, unless the participant opts out.
In November, House Committee on Education and Labor Chairman Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-Va.; ranking member Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.; Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee Chairman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Calif.; and subcommittee ranking member Rick Allen, R-Ga., introduced the Retirement Improvement and Savings Enhancement Act, or RISE Act.
The Rise Act, similar in scope to the Securing a Strong Retirement Act, was advanced out of committee in November, but both bills — the likely basis for a SECURE 2.0 package — have yet to come before the full House for a vote.
"The Securing a Strong Retirement Act and other retirement measures, like the saver's credit and my automatic IRA proposal, remain key priorities of mine, and I'm determined to find opportunities to advance them in 2022," Mr. Neal said in a statement to Pensions & Investments.
When Democrats in the House were negotiating the Build Back Better Act in September, Mr. Neal proposed a provision to require that employers offer a 401(k) or individual retirement account, with exceptions for governments, churches and companies with five or fewer employees or less than two years in business. He also put forth a provision to make the saver's credit refundable, allowing people without any income tax liability to be eligible to receive the benefit in the form of a contribution to their retirement account. Both provisions advanced out of the Ways and Means Committee but were stripped from the bill before it ultimately passed in the House in November.
Passing a SECURE 2.0 package in 2022 will be a challenge.
"Whenever you're looking at congressional schedules, there's a large degree of uncertainty as to what's going to happen," said Bradford P. Campbell, a Washington-based partner for Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and former assistant secretary of labor for the Employee Benefits Security Administration during President George W. Bush's administration.
A SECURE 2.0 bill is unlikely to get floor time in the Senate and passing it through unanimous consent — a fast-tracked process where no senator objects — is difficult, said Michael P. Kreps, Washington-based principal and co-chairman of the retirement services practice at Groom Law Group.
If a SECURE 2.0 bill were to pass, members in the House and Senate would likely work out some sort of compromise through an informal process and then attach the bill to a piece of must-pass legislation or a larger bill that's moving through Congress, Mr. Kreps said. The original SECURE Act was attached to a year-end spending bill in 2019.
Melissa Kahn, Washington-based managing director of retirement policy for State Street Global Advisors' defined contribution team, is optimistic a SECURE 2.0 bill will pass in 2022, but said getting it done before Congress' August recess is crucial because legislative business tends to slow down before a midterm election.
Mr. Campbell made a similar point and said that while the second half of 2022 will likely have fewer floor days in Congress and more time allocated to campaigning, the midterm elections could be a motivating factor to pass bipartisan legislation like a SECURE 2.0 package. "Congress would like to have some bipartisan achievements to point to so they can go back home and say they can work together; it's not all gridlock and problems," he said.