On CNBC, Portman Calls on Senate Democrats to Support CARES Act to Address Coronavirus Pandemic

March 24, 2020 | Portman Difference

In an interview with CNBC’s Squawk Box this morning, Senator Portman called on Senate Democrats to support the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which will help American families, workers, and employers large and small around the nation weather the enormous impact of the coronavirus pandemic.  Yesterday, he delivered remarks urging the Senate to come together on a bipartisan basis to get this important relief package passed. Portman was deeply disappointed that the Senate Democrats opposed this package since they helped negotiate it through four bipartisan task forces over the weekend. As he tweeted yesterday, health care professionals, small businesses & workers need the support now.

Excerpts of his interview can be found below and a video can be found here.  


“Negotiations are still going on, more hopeful signs, no white smoke coming out of the Capitol behind me yet, but I think we’ll probably get there today. It’s frustrating because we did put together a bipartisan package first based on a bipartisan process, task forces, I was one of the members of the task forces, but Democrats have dragged their feet, but we need to get it done and we will get it done. Joe, can I comment briefly on what I just heard from Barry? 

“I think this package is essential to get passed to do exactly what he’s talking about, which is to get us back to normalcy, get the economy moving again. Not only does it have a lot to help us weather the storm, particularly for workers, small businesses, but it also has a lot in terms of health care. There are four things we have to do to get back on track. One is to provide the protective gear. We do need the masks and the gowns and so on. We need to get these antivirals out there that are safe, whether it’s chloroquine and z-pack, or others. People need to know that they work, they’re safe. But then maybe most importantly in this bill, it provides funding for the CDC to have more testing and be able to collect data. I mean for us to get back on the on-ramp on the economy, we need to have a better set of data as to what’s happening. And without having the tests out there, and without having quick results and some tests now almost immediate results, 45 minutes, it’s very tough to do this. 

“Every day we need to have the county health departments and the state health departments reporting in, and the CDC reporting to us a metric, a measurement, data. That’s what people are going to trust. It needs to come from the scientists and come from the health care experts. And we can do this, there’s no reason we can’t do it. Again all of that money is in this legislation too. So, the economic part’s important and we need to get the economy back going again through some of the measures that are in there because once this thing passes, we have to be sure we’re on that on ramp. But the most important part of the bill actually, to me, is helping solve the health care crisis because until you do that, you can’t throw enough money at the economy, it will continue to be a problem.” 


“I think it’s already sinking in, I mean I spent the day yesterday on the phone with folks from Ohio who are saying, ‘What are you guys doing?’ I talked to a small business owner who said, ‘We’re watching, you know, I’ve kept my employees until now. I’m bleeding cash flow you know, I’ve got no revenue. I’ll hold on, but you guys need to move.’ He was hoping we would move on Monday as promised, we didn’t. Now we’ve got to move today. We’ve got to move quickly. We’ve got to be sure that we’re doing two things with the economy, one is helping keep workers with employers. That should be paramount for everybody. I think Democrats and Republicans now agree with that. You don’t want people to be let go if they don’t have to be let go because it makes it much harder for that employee to get the retirement, and to get back to the economy that we all hope for soon.  

“Second is helping workers who are displaced through no fault of their own and that’s the unemployment insurance program, which is historic and a huge increase, and then finally it’s this idea of getting our health care system where we can actually collect that data, have the metrics, know when we’re making progress, be able to report that with confidence to the American people in a credible way. That’s how we’re going to get back to work and how we’re going to help keep people safe. All of that is in this legislation. Is it perfect? No, it’s a big bill, but it’s $1.8 trillion. I think what the Democrats are asking for now is more spending. It’s $1.8 trillion. If we need more spending for things like hospitals, which they’re talking about -- by the way, there’s over $100 billion in new spending for hospitals in this bill alone -- we can come back and do that in a few weeks, in six weeks, but let’s get this legislation passed now to get the economy at a point where it’s not in free fall and to get this health care system moving so that we can improve the economy and get everybody back to normalcy.” 


“Yeah, that’s under the 13-3 provision as they call it. It’s Treasury and the Fed providing loans. By the way, these loans have to be paid back. These are not grants, these are loans to companies, small and large, across the spectrum. It is not going to specific companies. It can’t under the Fed’s rules as you know. It also has to be paid back, that’s why the Treasury is putting money against it, so it’s not just the Fed. So this is money that will be paid back, you think about the loans that were done after the ‘08, ‘09 crisis, and the fact that those were paid back. That’s the idea here. My understanding is that there’s a period of time in which companies don’t want to tell their creditors that they’re taking these loans because they need additional credit so you want the program to work, and that’s the point there. Now, more accountability, more transparency, I will tell you, Republicans are fine with that, but we need to be sure the program is effective and it works. That’s how 13-3 is typically set up but if there needs to be more transparency, Republicans aren’t standing in the way of transparency. We are hoping that the Democrats stop standing in the way of getting this bill done because it’s going to help a lot of small businesses keep their doors open. It’s going to help a lot of workers be able to have a place where they can go to be able, at least be able to make ends meet to put food on the table. 

“Yeah. It’s not all being done in secret -- I don’t know what that means exactly, but what I do think is that 13-3 is set up in a certain way. That’s the way this legislation has it. If there is to be more transparency, I would be for that. Republicans would be for that. I don’t think that’s, frankly, the sticking point here. I think it’s a matter of Democrats wanting more money, that’s what the Democratic Leader has said. More money for hospitals, more money for states, more money for a lot of things and that’s charitable because, as you know, there are a lot of other provisions they’ve tried to put in that have nothing to do with the coronavirus, and that’s been talked about. But I don’t think the accountability and transparency is the sticking point here. I think Republicans are fine with that.” 


“I would make the point, when you look at what the SBA loan costs, which is $350 billion when you look at what the unemployment system is going to cost, which is $250 billion. When you look at what we’re doing in terms of helping the economy move forward, there is a lot of funding here that’s going to help exactly the things that Democrats and Republicans alike say we want to do. Keep people at work if they can, help people who lose their job through no fault of their own, help get this health care system up and going so that we can be sure we do have this off-ramp based on good data, credible information, good testing. All of that is in this legislation. This is the legislation that is the rescue package. There’s no room for anything extraneous to be added here. It’s essential we get this out the door and focus the resources we have, and there’s plenty of them in here. This is equivalent, Joe, of what Congress appropriates every year. Think about it, so with our budget every year, when we appropriate money, the $1.8 trillion is more than we appropriated in the fiscal year 2020, so this is plenty of funding, and it’s got a lot of good policy changes to be able to be a rescue package here. And again, very significantly for me, it has these changes to the health care system -- it has money for CDC for testing, it has money for the anti-viral medication that we need so badly, it has money to be sure that we are able to provide this data for masks, and gowns, and so on for protective gear, that’s all in here. So let’s pass this legislation. If we need to come back in a few weeks and address something else or fine-tune it, we can do that. But let’s not hold up, the American people demand it.”