Portman on Senate Floor: We Need to Pull Together, as Republicans, as Democrats, as Americans and Address This Crisis
WASHINGTON, DC – Today on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) again called on his Democratic colleagues to support the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which will help American families, workers, and employers large and small around the nation weather the enormous impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Last night, 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. As he tweeted this morning, health care professionals, small businesses & workers need the support now -- today.
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.
A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“My colleague from Wyoming, and I think he has made it very clear what’s at stake here. We’re in a crisis. Our economy is in a freefall. People we represent, families, are suffering. The health care system is under tremendous stress. I spent the morning on the phone talking to Ohioans - small business owners, people who are out of a job and worried, nervous. We all know somebody who has lost a job. We all know somebody who has tested positive for this virus. Some of us, including me, know somebody who has died from the coronavirus.
“We need to pull together, as Republicans, as Democrats, as Americans, and address this crisis. I got to listen this afternoon to colleagues of mine on the other side of the aisle talk about the legislation that’s before us. And I’ve got to tell you, it was like they were talking about another bill. Not the one that we actually are asking Democrats to allow us to vote on. The one we’re asking them to allow us to vote on is the product of a bipartisan process.
“The Majority Leader set up five different task forces. Each task force is represented by Republicans and Democrats. I was in one of them. Two Republicans, two Democrats. We sat down and we hammered out details. We took Democrat ideas, and they are represented in the legislation. So this process that we’ve gone through -- very different, by the way, than what happened in the House with regard to the first bill. We have had an $8.3 billion health care bill, we’ve also had a Phase Two bill which is about $200 billion that provided free testing, helped in terms of health care and paid leave. Now we have this bill that’s $1.8 trillion. $1.8 trillion. That’s about as big as our entire domestic discretionary spending that we approve here every year. And yet, Democrats are saying it’s not enough money.
“So the most charitable way to describe what the Democrats are asking for now -- although Senator Barrasso did a good job of laying out some of the outrageous demands that have come up that have nothing to do with the coronavirus. But the most charitable way to say it is, they want more money. They want more money for states, more money for hospitals, they want more money for so many things. Guess what? There is $1.8 trillion in this bill, including billions of dollars, hundreds of billions of dollars for those purposes. If we find out in three weeks, in six weeks, in two months we need to do more, we will. But that’s not an excuse for stopping the progress of this legislation now when it is so badly needed.
“One of the calls I got this morning was from a small business owner. Do you know what he said to me? He said the same thing I’m sure all my colleagues are hearing. Which is, ‘I’m watching, I’m waiting. I don’t want to pull the trigger and let my employees go. I started this business. I started it from scratch. And now I have got to see the prospect of these people who I know and love losing their job. I’m waiting. I’m waiting to see what you do -- today.’
“The country is waiting. The markets are waiting. People are hurting, they’re suffering but they’re waiting to see if we can get our act together. And actually come up with something that helps them and you know what? This legislation does exactly what all of us, I thought, wanted to do. Three things. One, help keep people at work. We want people to stay with their employer, have a job, have their health care, have their retirement. Two, help workers who, through no fault of their own, lose their job. This legislation does that and three, let’s get this health care crisis under control. Let’s slow the spread of the coronavirus. All three of those things are precisely what’s in this legislation.
“Last night, I went through in detail and described every detail of how it addresses that and where the bipartisan ideas came from. I won’t do that now because I see the Majority Leader on the floor and I want him to have an opportunity to speak, but I will tell you those three objectives are in this legislation. Specifically laid out in this legislation. On the health care side, which is so important, we need more masks, we need more gowns, we need more ventilators, we need more respirators, we need to have more testing and a system to track that. That’s in this legislation. There is over $4 billion through the CDC to do exactly that. We need some data, some metrics, some measurements to know how we are doing and to be able to get out of this crisis. Because, until we deal with the health care crisis, we will continue to have this failure of our economic system because we’re letting people down right now.
“Reclaiming my time, to add to the absolutely inaccurate descriptions I have heard from the other side as to what’s in this legislation. In other words, they are blocking us moving forward, creating the procedural hurdles that the Majority Leader just talked about, but also doing so by telling the American people, for instance, there is not enough in here for small businesses. My gosh, this is an unprecedented program for small businesses, something we have never done before, telling businesses if you’re paying your employees to stay there, you not only get a loan, you get a grant.
“They say there is not enough in here to help people who are falling between the cracks. Unprecedented unemployment insurance system that we are setting up here. By the way, if you look at the unemployment insurance side, look at it this way. What we are saying is we want to increase by eight times the cost of the national unemployment insurance system. That’s how I look at it. It’s an additional $600 per week per person. It’s a broader employment system because we’re going to bring in people who are self-employed, people who are in the gig economy, something we should be doing as a matter of reform, perhaps, but in this case we have to do it. These people are hurting, too.
“This is unprecedented to provide people the ability who are low-moderate income Americans to have wage replacement through unemployment insurance. That’s never been done before. That’s in this legislation. This is a rescue package. It’s to help people weather the storm. It’s to ensure that we have the ability to say to the people who are calling us and saying ’please help us’, help is on the way. Are we going to solve every problem in this one bill? No. Although $1.8 trillion goes a long way toward solving the problem. But we’ll be back here again. We’ll be back here to ensure that we can fine-tune this legislation. And if we need to react to other challenges, we have to do that because our constituents are owed it.
“This is a crisis. But in the meantime, let’s pass this legislation. It does help small businesses keep people at work. It does protect those workers who lose their job through no fault of their own. It does take our health care system, which is under such tremendous stress and improve it in every respect to deal with this coronavirus, to slow the spread, ensuring that we can tell the American people not only are you going to be safer and healthier if this legislation passes, but guess what? You have a better chance of keeping your job and being able to take care of your family.”