Portman on Senate Floor: Let’s Pass the Coronavirus Rescue Package Today

March 24, 2020 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – Today on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) again 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.  Earlier today on CNBC’s Squawk Box and yesterday on the Senate floor he urged the Senate to come together on a bipartisan basis to get this important rescue 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. 

Last week, Portman voted in support of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provides free coronavirus testing, paid sick leave, small business aid, and additional help for individuals and families in Ohio and across the nation. The measure has already been signed into law by the president. Portman also hosted a number of conference calls with outside stakeholders, such as employers, hospitals and health care providers, small business owners, workers and more to help inform his discussions with his colleagues in the Senate as well as the Trump Administration as they work to finalize the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act 

“Nothing is perfect around here, but if you make perfect the enemy of the good, you’re going to hurt more people, more small businesses will shut, more people will be out on their own and there will be more and more people who will be infected with this virus who otherwise could have been saved,” Portman states. 

A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here. 

“Mr. President, our economy is in a free fall. I just got off the phone with another business from Ohio worried about whether they can survive, whether or not they can keep the workers they have and looking to us to try to pass something that would actually help. The bill before us does that, and yet here we are, another day has gone by, more people have lost their jobs, more small businesses have shuttered. The health care crisis continues. The coronavirus is spreading. And we’re not passing legislation that addresses all of those issues.  

“I ask my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, work with us. Let’s come up with a bill here today. It’s the result of a bipartisan process. I was part of it, so I can tell you that. It was four different task forces that were asked to deal with four different parts of the response to the coronavirus. Each one was bipartisan. In our case there were two Republicans, two Democrats, the administration was involved. We made concessions, Democrats made concessions, the legislation represents that. There are ideas from both sides in it. And yet here we are, 48 hours after the bill was introduced, we had hoped to have the bill signed into law by the president on Monday. I had businesses calling me yesterday saying ‘I’m holding on because I was told this was going to get done on Monday.’ So my hope is those meetings that are happening behind those closed doors over there result in something quickly and that Democrats don’t keep trying to add more things to this bill that are extraneous, that don’t have to do with the coronavirus.  

“This is not the time to try to get whatever your wish list is on a piece of legislation that’s moving. This is not our normal times here where members try to take advantage of a bill going through by adding something to it. It’s also not a time to say ‘let’s spend more, more, and more on everything.’ This is unprecedented. The total spending of this bill will be about $1.5 trillion. That’s roughly the size of the entire appropriation that Congress normally makes. The entire appropriation that comes through the process here called discretionary spending is the amount of this one coronavirus emergency bill. To me, it’s a rescue package. 

“It’s a rescue package that does three things. One, it tries to keep the doors open in those small businesses that are watching us so carefully right now to see what’s going to happen. Also as part of keeping the doors open means that you can keep your employees. So goal one is, keep employees attached to businesses. We should all want that. That’s where most people get their health care, get their retirement. That’s where we want employees to be as we get over the hump here and begin to control this virus. Then we want to go back to work. We want to get the economy moving again so people can have paychecks and our economy can grow again.  

“Number two, we do want to take care of those people who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves out of work. And, sadly, in my home state of Ohio and around the country there are a lot of people in that category. Our unemployment insurance system is overwhelmed right now. This past week, compared to a week ago, we had a 20-fold increase, that’s a 2,000 percent increase in the number of people who are applying for unemployment insurance. Our claims have skyrocketed, it’s overwhelmed the system. That's happening all over the country. We want to take care of those people.  

“And, three, this legislation does what is perhaps the most important thing, which is it addresses the problems in our public health care system that have resulted in this response to coronavirus not being as strong as we would like it. Think about more masks and more gowns, protective equipment. Think about the antiviral medication people can take. Like with flu, people can take Tamiflu. You need the antiviral there to get people some comfort. Think about the fact that we don’t have enough tests out there still. Yes, it’s improved and it’s improving every day but we don’t have enough tests. People who are asymptomatic ought to be able to get a test. If they’re positive than we ought to be able to trace. That’s what they did in South Korea, that’s what they did in Japan, that’s what they’ve done in other countries to try to get control of this so that’s all in this legislation. Until we solve the health care part of it, that last part, that third part, we’re going to continue to have problems in terms of the economic free fall.  

“We can’t spend enough money to stop what’s happening in terms of this economic issue unless we deal with the health care part of this. And I think we’re starting to make progress, but you know what? We need the funding now so that the Centers for Disease Control, so that the states, so that the state departments of public health, so the county departments of public health can get to the point where they know who has this, they can trace it and they can tell us with certainty whether we’re making progress or not.  

“One thing this bill will let us do is to develop those metrics so that you and I and everybody every day can see what the status is, how many new cases have been opened that day. If we have this information from better testing, from better information flow, from the funding in this bill including billions of dollars going to the Centers for Disease Control and back to the states, then we’ll be able to have some way to measure our success and eventually be able to say, ‘We’re making progress. We’ve actually reversed the trend.’ Only then will moms and dads feel safe having their kids go back to school. Only then will workers feel like it’s safe to go back to work. Only then will restaurants be able to reopen and have people coming in to take advantage of that hospitality. Only then will the theaters be able to open up and the bowling alleys. 

“So this is in this legislation also on the first two we talked about, helping keep employees at work and keeping the doors open with small businesses. Please let’s pass this right away because there are doors closing as we talk. Every minute we’re here arguing over stuff, some of which has nothing to do with coronavirus, means another business has shut down, another group of employees are let go. This legislation says, if you’re a small business, you can get a loan from your bank to keep the doors open, and the loan effectively converts to a grant, meaning you don’t have to pay it back if you use the loan to pay your payroll, to keep people, to pay your rent, to pay your mortgage. This is new. It’s innovative. It’s something that small businesses are excited about, but we’ve got to pass the legislation to make it happen. This is $350 billion. And, again, total forgiveness of that loan if you use it for these purposes to keep your employees. Please let’s get this passed right away. It’s going to take a little while for these programs to go in place, all the more reason for us not to wait another day or even another hour. 

“Second, for larger businesses there is this new fund called the Exchange Stabilization Fund. That’s to help companies who can’t get a loan from a bank, to be able to get help from Treasury and the Fed to provide money for liquidity so they can stay in business. They may have little or no cash flow but they’re looking for a loan to be able to stay afloat. These loans all have to be paid back. Should there be accountability with these loans? Of course. Republicans are for accountability. That’s fine. But let’s get moving on this. It is under this provision there would be special help for certain industries. National security industries, the airlines. Republicans are for that. But let’s make sure that this is not a giveaway. Make sure that there’s an opportunity to the shareholders who are the taxpayers of our country to be able to get their money back, just like shareholders would want to in another business kind of commercial loan. That’s all we’re asking for.  

“The final thing is that under this legislation, there is significant help for these companies to be able to keep their doors open, small, medium, and large, through some tax incentives that provide more liquidity during this year, 2020. One of the important ones there is if you do have payroll, and most of these companies still do, you cannot pay your payroll taxes during 2020. So you defer your payroll taxes until next year and the year after. Companies care a lot about that. They’re telling me that’s very important to them. That lowers their expenses, lets them keep people, stay in business. And yet they have to pay them back over time. So for the taxpayers it’s a good deal.  

“There’s also an opportunity here to help people directly. That’s in this legislation. That’s the second goal. First goal, keep the doors open, keep the employees at work. Second goal help people who through no fault of their own, find themselves unemployed - some for the first time in their lives. I’ve got friends at home I know who have been let go. They work in the retail business or the hospitality business. There is just no business. They have never been to an unemployment insurance office. They have never had to. Now they have to. So, yes, this legislation does include a little help for them. In two ways -- one, unemployment insurance is bumped up from the federal government. So every state in the country is going to have the ability to be sure that people who come and want to get on unemployment have the ability maybe not to match their salary entirely, not total wage replacement. But for low-income workers, yes. And for others, at least enough money to be able to put food on the table, maybe make the rent, maybe make the car payment during this period. It’s a short-term proposal. It’s three months but it’s really important. It’s the safety net, unemployment insurance.  

“And then second, a direct payment. And you’ve heard about that perhaps, I think it’s $1,200 per person, $2,400 for a joint filer, for a couple. And then $500 for a child. Why is that important? People need some cash right now. Some people are not going to be able to get on the unemployment insurance system for a while because it takes a little while to process that, but they will have the ability because the IRS will be presenting these checks quickly to be able to have a little help, a little cushion. So this bill has all that.  

“This bill is there to help people. This bill is there to ensure the doors can stay open in these businesses and people can stay employed to the extent possible. Let’s not block it anymore. People have said, ‘Well there’s not enough money in here’ and that’s really what Democrats want, is to put more money in the bill. There is already $75 billion straight to hospitals and then I would argue at least another $40 billion going to hospitals directly or indirectly through Medicare reimbursements. Through other changes in law that help. That used to be a lot of money around here. My point is if that’s not enough, in a few weeks Congress will be back, we can look at this. We're going to need to fine-tune this. But don’t block the bill today because it’s not enough money for whatever you think your needs are. We don’t know what the needs are, let’s be honest. 

“We do know this is an unprecedented amount of money. Congress has never passed a rescue package like this before, $1.5 trillion on top of about $200 billion that was in the legislation that passed only a couple of weeks ago on top of the $8.3 billion that was in the first one. This is Phase Three.  

“And then, finally, number three, this legislation does provide the help to the health care system, particularly the public health care system to be able to provide the protective gear that’s needed for health care workers. The additional ventilators and respirator that are needed in our hospitals. The antiviral medication that can help when someone tests positive to know there’s going to be a way to minimize, to reduce the effects of this virus, the infection. And then really significantly, to not only increase the testing, and today Lab Corps and Quest said they can now do 300,000 tests a week. We need to use the cotton swab to get them the swabs. There needs to be a process to get them. But now we’re finally starting to come online, this legislation provides funding that will help move that more quickly to get it going so that we can have the information to be able to measure whether we’re succeeding or not.  

“And then as we begin to measure our success to be able to get people back to work, to be able to get the economy back on track, to be sure that people are out there, again, shopping. The consumer economy is so important. This can all happen, but this legislation is critical to make it happen, to provide the rescue to help people weather this storm and to ensure that at the other end of this we come out strong. And we will. We will. But it requires us working together today, right now to come out from behind these doors, stop the negotiating to add more here and there and just say, this is a bipartisan product.  

“Nothing is perfect around here, but if you make perfect the enemy of the good, you’re going to hurt more people, more small businesses will shut, more people will be out on their own and there will be more and more people who will be infected with this virus who otherwise could have been saved. So, Mr. President, I ask my colleagues, it’s already been too long. Let’s pass this legislation today. Let’s begin the rescue package and begin to help the constituents who deserve it.”