On Senate Floor, Portman Highlights August Visits Around Ohio
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, on the Senate Floor, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) highlighted his visits in Ohio during the August state work period. He traveled more than 4,000 miles and visited 39 different counties in the state, completing his goal of visiting all 88 Ohio counties during this term. He met with Ohioans and discussed a variety of issues, including expanding skills training, protecting and preserving our Great Lakes, combating the drug epidemic, helping farmers by passing USMCA, supporting our military and more.
Transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“Here in the Senate, this is the first week back in session after what’s called the August work period, and so today I want to talk a little about my travels around the state of Ohio over the August district work period and talk about what I learned that can help inform us here as to what we can do better in the U.S. Congress to help on issues that are important to people I represent back in Ohio.
“One that was striking for me and has been actually for the last several years is workforce needs, that there just aren’t enough workers to fill the jobs that are out there. What a great opportunity for people to come in out of the shadows and get to work but also what a necessity it is for our economy to have these workers. Learned a lot about that and heard a lot about that.
“The changing drug crisis -- we in Ohio have been hit hard with the opioid crisis, but it is evolving, as always. Fentanyl, which is the synthetic form of opioids, but now, much more crystal meth which is more powerful and cheaper than ever, coming in from Mexico. And we need to be responsive to that change.
“Challenges in ag country. Our farmers are hurting. Low prices over the past few years have been compounded by terrible weather this year, the worst planting season in my memory in Ohio. A lot of the crops didn’t get in at all. Those that did, about half of them, are not in good shape. This is tough on our farmers.
“And then ways to do a better job in protecting Lake Erie. This is a huge issue for us in Ohio. Our number-one tourist attraction and incredible source of income and jobs. We have about a $6 billion fishing industry now in the Great Lakes, and the most important lake of all? Lake Erie. As an example, several million people get their drinking water from Lake Erie. I learned a lot about that over the break.
“Then also the importance of our military, having the support that they need. I went to our military bases around the state, learned about what we can do to help them more. And also had the opportunity to visit two of our NASA centers in Ohio. One of the 10 NASA research centers is in Cleveland, Ohio, NASA Glenn, and then the Plum Brook station where we test equipment heading to the moon soon. That was very helpful to understand better about how we can be providing steady funding here in the Congress so that we can indeed fulfill our missions that we’ve always had here in this country, which is to push beyond the bounds, and in this case, to go back to the moon, have the first woman on the moon, and then eventually to go to Mars and the benefits to that.
“So it was a busy month. I traveled to 39 different counties in Ohio over the last several weeks, more than 4,000 miles on my pickup truck, which now has over 180,000 miles on it traveling around our state, 75 different events. When I began my second term representing Ohio back in 2017, I made it a goal of mine to visit all 88 counties in Ohio during this term. And I’m happy to report that just during August we achieved that goal. So a few years early we’ve hit all 88 counties, now we’ll just continue to go around our state and see people in every part of our state, hear them out and, again, to know what the best thing is to do here in Congress to be able to help them, help their families, help our state. I also, though, traveled by train, by ferry in Lake Erie, by bike on charity bikes rides, and even by kayak on the Cuyahoga River to meet with constituents about how Washington can be a better partner for them and their families.
“I met with a lot of small businesses and I talked to them about how they’re doing. And the tax reform and the regulatory relief has really helped. This is why we have a stronger economy now than anybody projected. It’s why we’ve more jobs being created. It’s why we have wages going up for the first time in a decade in Ohio. We actually had last month, nationally, wage increases of 3.5 percent year to year, well above inflation. That is a welcome change. Really after in Ohio about a decade and a half of flat wages, not keeping up with inflation, people feeling like they’re working hard, playing by the rules but couldn’t get ahead. Now you finally see wages going up.
“The biggest increases? Among lower-income and middle-income workers. Exactly what you want. So I’m happy to report that. And I’m happy to report that small business owners in Ohio are happy that it’s actually working for them because it’s expanded their plants and their operations and they’ve hired more people. But what I did hear consistently from employers at every level and for that matter from hospitals and nonprofits and from state and local government is one thing -- workforce. They don’t have enough qualified workers to fill the jobs that they have. Again, a great opportunity to bring people off the sidelines, people who are not applying for work, not looking for work, the labor force participation, as economists call it, is relatively low, bring them off the sidelines. But we also need these people to be able to meet our economic needs.
“If you go on Ohiomeansjobs.com this morning, you’ll see about 150,000 jobs being advertised. 150,000 open jobs. And you look at those jobs and a lot of them require skills, not the kind of skills that you get from a college degree but the kind of skills you achieve somewhere between high school and college, things like welding, machining, coding, other IT jobs, techs for hospitals, truck drivers. These jobs are open right now in Ohio. Economists call these jobs skill jobs. But again, the kind of jobs that you can get the skills from a short-term training program. I’ve been a big fan of improving those skills and we’ve made some progress here. We’ve started a caucus called the Career and Technical Caucus. I’m the co-chair and co-founder of that, to focus on these practical hands-on, skills training jobs that can help us to be able to fill this need.
“The openings that we have in Ohio are also all around the country. And I was pleased that recently the president signed my Educating Tomorrow’s Workforce Act into law that allows states and localities to use Perkins grant funding to establish these Career and Technical Education academies at the high school level. But we need to do more. And one that would really help is if we could pass what’s called the JOBS Act. It’s legislation I’ve introduced consistently with Senator Tim Kaine from Virginia. It’s really very simple, it says, we ought to be able to use Pell grants not just for college but also for these shorter-term training programs. In fact, they’re much more relevant to what we need right now. Sadly, most people who get a Pell grant to go to college don’t end up with a college degree. I support Pell in colleges and universities. It is an important way for lower-income students to get access to education. But why not allow those same students to get a shorter-term training program under their belt? Right now they can’t afford it.
“If you want to get a welding degree to get an industry-recognized credential to become a welder in Ohio, you can get a good-paying job right away with good benefits. Yet it is costly to go through that program. They’re less than 15 weeks so they don’t qualify for Pell. So a student is told, you can go to college and get a history degree, but you can’t get a welding certificate and use a Pell grant. That’s just wrong. It’s unfair.
“I heard the same thing again and again at visits I made to community colleges around Ohio over August. Visits I made to Career and Technical schools around Ohio, which is they want the JOBS Act and they want it now because they know it is going to help them. I heard from students -- one student at a welding program, at a CTE school told me she wanted to get an advanced welding certificate so she can get a great job. She knows exactly what she wants to do but she can’t afford it. This is an 18-year-old, last year of high school. She’s working three jobs right now. But she can’t afford the cost. So she’s probably going to take a Pell and go to college, but she’d really prefer to take a Pell and get this advanced certificate that’s industry-recognized so she can get a good welding job. That’s something we should pass here and do it soon.
“The Higher Education Act may well be passed this year. This is a perfect vehicle for it. I want to thank Senator Lamar Alexander, who has been supportive of this common-sense change to be able to give our young people and others the training they need to be able to access the jobs that are out there.
“Elsewhere around the state, I did meet with our farmers in several counties. The heavy flooding has led to the worst planting season in our modern history in Ohio. We’ve helped a little bit because the Department of Agriculture, at our urging, has included Ohio in a disaster declaration, so some of these farmers who haven’t been able to plant are getting low-interest loans right now and eventually will get some grant money. And that’s good. But these farmers also want to have the access to more markets around the world because they know that’s going to increase their prices and enable them to get back on their feet after these tough times with the weather. They are particularly concerned about what’s happening with regard to the U.S.-Mexico agreement. Remember, we had this existing agreement called NAFTA, which is with Mexico and Canada, our two largest trading partners. For Ohio, by far our two largest trading partners. But right now the NAFTA agreement is 25 years old, outdated, not keeping up with the times, not opening up markets enough, and so we have this new agreement that’s been signed by Mexico, signed by Canada. We’re ready to go with it, but it has to be confirmed here in the United States Congress. Right now, unbelievably, it’s being held up, even though our farmers desperately want it.
“You know who else wants it? Our workers, because it’s going to help manufacturing. The people who are involved in trade understand the importance of Canada and Mexico because they are our largest markets. And it’s going to be so helpful for our country and for my state of Ohio if we can get it done. The International Trade Commission, which is an independent body, has studied this and says yes, it’s going to create over 150,000 new jobs. In the auto industry, it’s great for Michigan, Ohio, other states. And, again all we have to do is have a vote here in the United States Congress to be able to confirm this and we can put it in place. It will help our economy. It will help create more jobs. It will help create some certainty going forward. We need to get this done.
“Many of the things in the agreement, by the way, are things that Democrats have been calling for for years. Tougher labor standards that are enforceable as an example. It actually has a minimum wage – 40-45 of vehicles made under USMCA must be produced by workers earning an average of $16 per hour. It has a 70 percent requirement for vehicles to use North American steel. Is has a number of things that Democrats have called upon us to do for years. And if we don’t pass USMCA, the alternative is the status quo which is NAFTA. So in effect if you don’t support USMCA, it must mean that you support the status quo which is NAFTA, which again so many Democrats have been criticizing over the years. So let’s get this done.
“The 25-year-old NAFTA is not the status quo that anybody should want when we have this better agreement in front of us, specifically the House of Representatives. If they were to bring the bill to the floor, I believe they could pass it just because of the logic, the fact that this agreement is so much better than the status quo. And then over here in the Senate, we’d have no trouble passing it in my view.
“During my tour over August, I also spent time visiting with a lot of groups and organizations that are combating the drug epidemic that has gripped my home state of Ohio and our country. As you know, we now have more people dying of overdoses in Ohio than any other cause of death. It’s unbelievable, 72,000 people in 2017 died of overdoses in this country, more than we lost in the entire Vietnam War just in one year. 72,000 Americans. So we have made some progress recently. We should be proud of that. Last year for the first time in eight years we saw a reduction in overdose deaths partly because Congress has stepped up, over $4 billion in new funding for prevention and longer-term treatment programs, recovery programs, and more Narcan for our first responders. This is important but we also have to realize that the threat is evolving and changing.
“One thing I learned when I was home and talking to groups all over the state about this issue is that yes, the legislation we passed is helping. I got to see it helping, see how the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act, my legislation, is being put to work in Ohio. But the new threat in Ohio is these new drugs that are coming in, particularly crystal meth. Crystal meth coming in from Mexico that is more powerful and less expensive than ever. We used to have meth labs in Ohio. You may have had them in your communities as well. You probably won’t hear much about meth labs anymore. Why? Because the stuff on the street is even more powerful than you can make in a meth lab, in someone’s home. And it’s less expensive. In fact, the law enforcement folks in Ohio are telling me the meth on the street in Ohio is less expensive than marijuana and has a much more corrosive effect on our communities and a devastating impact on families and individuals, increasing crime.
“This is a psycho stimulant like cocaine that is causing more aggressive crimes in fact. The opioid crisis we need to continue to keep our eye on the ball. Need to continue to do what we’re doing. Congress deserves credit for expanding the treatment, longer-term recovery programs, some of the prevention money, the use of Narcan but at the same time we have to be more flexible. So legislation that I’ve introduced, I hope, we’ll be able to pass which says let’s provide more flexibility to our communities, to take that money for opioids and use it for whatever the community needs to address substance abuse.
“I heard also when I was home a lot about Lake Erie which is our treasure in Ohio, number one tourist attraction in the state. It’s the place where Ohioans have come for generations and generations for recreation, fishing, swimming, but also so many Ohioans depend on it for their drinking water. There are several million Ohioans who require to us have clean drinking water out of Lake Erie. Those individuals are worried. Why? Because we actually had in Toledo a few years ago a recommendation that we shut down the water system because of the toxic algal blooms that are in Lake Erie. This year is another tough year for the toxic algal blooms cutting out fishing and swimming opportunities. We need to do more to address it.
“Congress has made progress in this area. We passed legislation that’s helping, more money that’s helping, my legislation to deal with Harmful Algal Blooms is giving the federal government a bigger role. That’s important. But clearly we need to do more. One is to ensure that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, federal legislation continues to be funded. That’s a fight we’re having now with the appropriations process. Senator Stabenow and I have introduced legislation to authorize that program going forward and to increase the funding slightly. Why? Because it’s working. This is public/private partnerships all around the Great Lakes to deal with the Harmful Algal Blooms, to deal with the invasive species coming in. It’s one of those federal programs that works well.
“We also had the opportunity to go to all of our military bases around the state of Ohio and to go to our two NASA facilities. I’m so proud of the individuals in Ohio who are standing up for our troops in their own way, whether it’s at the Lima tank plant where I got to visit individuals making our M1 Abrams tanks and our Stryker vehicles or whether it’s at NASA where we are preparing for the next mission to the moon. NASA administrator James Bridenstine came with us to the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and Plumbrook testing facility. We got to see how those scientists and engineers, the best in the world, are working to complete the Artemis Program. This ambitious effort to put a woman on the moon and the next man on the moon within the next five years, laying the groundwork for a mission to Mars.
“Mr. President, it was great to be home. It was great to have the opportunity to visit with folks all over the state of Ohio. We were busy but it’s great now to have the opportunity to come back refreshed and talk about how we can make a bigger difference for them here in the United States Congress with some of the legislative initiatives I talked about today. There’s so much we can and should do this fall. I’m eager to roll up my sleeves, have a productive session here working on a bipartisan basis to get things done for the people I represent and for all Americans.”