On Senate Floor, Portman Highlights Benefits of Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act for Ohio

August 4, 2021 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – This evening on the Senate Floor, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) provided an update on the Senate’s consideration of the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, the landmark bipartisan infrastructure investment legislation he helped to negotiate over the past three months. Portman discussed the ways in which Ohio will benefit from this $550 billion package, including funding to repair its crumbling roads and bridges, resources to upgrade water infrastructure across the state, and expanding broadband to underserved parts of Ohio, including rural Southeastern Ohio.

Portman also applauded the bipartisan amendment process in the Senate that has taken place over the past few days. He hailed the good-faith debate by both sides as an example of how Washington should work on behalf of the people, and urged his colleagues to continue their work to achieve a historic bipartisan victory for the country.

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

 

 

Mr. President, I thank the Majority Leader for allowing me to say a few words tonight, and I want to commend him and the Republican Leader, Mitch McConnell, for allowing us to have this series of amendments. The Senate has worked its will and will continue to work its will tomorrow. As was said, there have been 22 amendments on the floor – About half of them are Democrat amendments, about half of them are Republican amendments – I will say also, there’s just been a lot of discussion that has ensued because of this amendment process. So a lot of people have had the opportunity to discuss their issues, to try to improve the bill in certain ways, and frankly, a lot of these amendments were accepted. They were voted on positively – one just recently with regard to a safety issue that was just discussed – and improve the bill.

“So that’s the way this place ought to work, and I think it’s consistent with what we tried to do in this process from the beginning, where we saw an opportunity to pull out core infrastructure from a much larger package and deal with it without raising taxes, but by focusing on bipartisan solutions, and that’s exactly what the underlying bill does. The next step in that was to say, let’s try to have an open amendment process, too. And sure enough, we have.

“I had some colleagues of mine come up to me tonight and say, ‘You know, it’s nice to see the Senate working its will again,’ because these are colleagues who were around in previous decades where they saw this more often. So, again, I want to thank my colleagues for going through this process. It requires some patience. It requires some consensus. Some amendments had to be altered in some ways to be sure that both sides were comfortable having votes on them. But at the end of the day, we’re able to say that people’s voices are being heard. And this will continue tomorrow. I just saw a list of about 10 amendments. I know there are others as well that people would like to offer tomorrow and I’m all for it, as is Senator Sinema. Senator Sinema and I are very pleased that members have the opportunity to express themselves.

“Mr. President I would also like to talk a little about what this bill does and why it’s so important for our country. For the past two days, we’ve been working through this amendment process and sometimes we lose sight of the bigger picture here. The bigger picture is, we as a country have an infrastructure system that’s badly in need of repair. We are consistently rated as a country with an infrastructure system that frankly hasn’t kept up with the rest of the world. So there’s a group called the World Economic Forum and they give a report card every couple of years. And America ends up 13th and 14th in the world in terms of infrastructure. That’s not where we want to be. By the way, on a broader gauge of competitiveness, we’re right up at the top in terms of our trade system, our tax system, our economic system generally. But with regard to infrastructure, we’re not.

As some of you have heard me say before, this is about competitiveness too. Think about this – China spends three or four times more as a percent of their GDP than we do on infrastructure. The reality, as I’ve looked at those numbers, is that it is even higher than that. But let’s say three or four times higher. Why? Because they get it. They’re trying to outcompete us in every way, including having better ports, better rail, better airports, the ability to both buy and sell their products overseas, and we here in America want to be at the top of that list. So that’s why it’s very important from my point of view that we focus on the economic impact here. If we get this bill passed, it will make our economy more efficient, therefore more productive, therefore, the economy will grow, therefore more tax revenue will come into the coffers.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about the pay-fors in this legislation. We’ll know more as the CBO report tells us very specifically how it’s paid for. But the bottom line is much of what happens in this bill, which is spending for capital assets, is long-term spending. It’s not going to be spent next year. It may be spent in five years or 10 years. It may be a bridge in Georgia, it may be a port in Alabama. Those take years and years and years. The funding we’re providing, the $550 billion in this bill, will be spent over that period of time, will add to those hard assets.

“It’s, as a result of that, on the supply side of the economy creating jobs, creating hard assets like the bridges and like the ports. And as a result of that, it’s actually counter-inflationary. So I know there’s been concern on the floor, including raised today in one of the amendments about the fact that more spending leads to more inflation. Not this kind of spending. The kind of spending that would lead to it is more what’s called the demand side of the equation. You know, as an example, the stimulus checks or even the unemployment insurance benefits – that led to more demand in the economy. And, yes, that did drive up our inflation over the past several months and continues to.

“This is not that. This is spending over the long haul that will create these capital assets that will make our economy more efficient and should be counter-inflationary. We have a number of economists who have spoken to this. Doug Holtz-Eakin, some of you know, also Michael Strain, who’s at the American Enterprise Institute. The Penn Wharton study on this is very interesting. They say actually that our legislation, as they analyze it, will end up growing the economy, creating more jobs, and actually reducing the deficit, meaning more money will come into the coffers than we’re spending here that’s not paid for with CBO-certified official scores because of the economic impact of this. So this is very important for all of our constituents. It’s also important for our broader economy to make sure America stays at the forefront and that we can be competitive for our kids and our grandkids.

“Let’s take the state of Ohio as an example, since I happen to be from Ohio and why it’s going to help my state. Ohio is a big infrastructure state, we got a lot of roads and a lot of bridges. Ohio’s roadway network has a lot of congestion also. It’s estimated that the congestion in Ohio costs motorists an estimated $4.7 billion each year in lost time and wasted fuel. That’s according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, who scored Ohio’s roads a ‘D’ in their 2021 infrastructure report card. A ‘D’. Now, the nation as a whole is only a ‘C-’ under their analysis. Ohio is a ‘D’, so we’re a little worse than the nation as a whole. As a whole, again, we’re falling behind, but Ohio particularly.

“We’re second in the nation for the number of bridges. We’ve got a lot of little rivers and railroad tracks in Ohio. So we’ve got a lot of bridges. We have 44,736 bridges in Ohio, and by the way, they’ve looked at these bridges, their analysis is nearly half of them are not in good condition. Our farmers who are working to plant crops in their field want to be able to then get those crops to market. They want to get them to the elevators. They want to be able to export them. They care about infrastructure. The moms and dads across Ohio who commute to work every day would a heck of a lot rather spend their time with their kids than sitting in a car in a traffic jam on I-71 or 75 or I-270 or I-70.

“We’ve got a lot of great roads in Ohio, but frankly, they can’t keep up with the demand, so we’ve got a lot of traffic jams during rush hour. Those are some of the people who care a lot about infrastructure. Our manufacturers – we make everything in Ohio. We make cars. We make washing machines. We make tanks. We’re proud of what we make in Ohio and what we export all around the world. We’ve got to be sure and get those products to market, too. So infrastructure is really important.

“Today, I talked to a company in Ohio that has trucks all over Ohio – and the country, for that matter. It’s the Cintas Corporation. They’re the uniform company, but they do a lot more than uniforms. They’re excited about this bill because it’s going to help them be more efficient in their delivery of their services. That’s the same with our truckers. I talked to a trucking company person yesterday who was interested in how this would affect the truck stops and wanted to know about electric vehicle charging stations and so on. But the bottom line was this person said this is going to help because our truckers want to have a safe road and a safe bridge and want to be able to meet their requirements and not get stuck in traffic jams and be able to make more money on the road, frankly.

“So this is something that helps our constituents across the board. But it goes well beyond just our roads. This is also about water infrastructure in this legislation. Communities across our state deserve water infrastructure that’s going to deliver them clean, safe drinking water. We’ve got a lot of old water systems in Ohio that need help and need it badly. We also have a lot of wastewater systems in Ohio that are in trouble. Some of you may know this, but there are new EPA rules that have come out over the past couple of decades about wastewater systems and particularly combined sewer overflow systems, where when you have a lot of rain in many of our systems in Ohio, there’s a combination of the sewer system and the wastewater system, and that’s not safe. And yet fixing it is really expensive.

“Those communities, mostly mid-sized cities in Ohio, but some larger cities as well, have all said to me, ‘Can you help us a little more on water infrastructure?’ With a revolving loan program we have in here, the ability for them to get low interest federal loans to be able to expand their water infrastructure system, they’ll be able to do that in this legislation, as well as received grants from the federal government to help them ensure that we do have water systems that work.

“Folks in rural parts of our state. Ohio is an Appalachian state. We have about 32 counties considered part of Appalachia. And guess what? In most of those counties, we have virtually no internet. I mean, sometimes there’s real slow internet you can get, but virtually no internet. And this is why for some of our kids in those counties in Ohio – these are rural counties that don’t have access to Wi-Fi of any speed that’s appropriate for school, much less work – these kids are falling behind and particularly, of course, during the pandemic when they had to rely on online learning. And the stories are out there and you know them. The mom that comes up to me when I’m out and about in Ohio and says, ‘You know what, I’ve had to take my kid to the parking lot of the library, which is a 45-minute drive for me across rural Ohio roads, to be able to do her homework.’ I mean, that makes no sense, we want the digital divide to be closed. We want the ability for those kids in rural Ohio to have access to the internet, just as kids can get access to it in suburban or more urban settings.

“But even in the suburban and urban settings, we want to help be sure those kids have the hookup to their home to be able to get that internet and to be able to afford that internet. So this legislation is unprecedented in many ways in terms of infrastructure – more roads, more bridges, more ports, more water systems – but it’s also historic, unprecedented in terms of the expansion of broadband, finally.

“Again, this is about catching up. There are countries around the world that actually have better broadband than we do that are not even developed countries. They are poorer countries, you would think of that might be a little behind, but they’re sort of leapfrogging us in terms of technology because they realize how important having that internet built out is.

“The other issue is for telehealth. There are more and more people who are relying on telehealth. Part of this comes out of the pandemic when people kind of had to do that. They didn’t want to go into a doctor’s office or go into a hospital for fear of the COVID pandemic. And frankly, right now, with the variants and the Delta variant in particular there are some people who are still now unfortunately not comfortable going to a health care setting, but they need to have an appointment. They need to have someone to check them out. They need perhaps, with regard to behavioral health, to have the ability to have a consult.

“They can do that online now. And the federal government has been reimbursing that for the first time because before, under Medicare and Medicaid, that was very difficult. So this is going to be a growing part of our health care system. And I think it’s a good thing, sort of a rare silver lining in a terrible dark cloud of the pandemic that we’ve learned how to do telehealth better. But what if you don’t have access to internet? So what if you’re a veteran in southeast Ohio, and you’ve got to drive two-and-a-half hours to the VA clinic and instead you’d like to use telehealth because it makes a lot more sense for you, for your situation, particularly during the pandemic, but you don’t have internet? For that veteran that’s not fair. So telehealth is another reason for us to expand internet access.

“And finally, just for our economic benefit in these communities, we want more startups. We want more companies to be able to be successful. Without internet, let’s face it, it’s going to be very, very difficult. So these are all part of this legislation as well. The hard, core infrastructure you think of, like roads and bridges, yes. Water infrastructure, yes. Ports, rail, freight. But also the digital infrastructure that ties our country together. That’s part of this legislation as well. And again, it’s why economists who look at this say this is actually going to help make our economy work better, make it more efficient, we’ll be more productive as a country, we’ll have more economic growth and then more revenue will come in.

“That’s why this is so popular. I mean, when you think about it, what can everybody agree on in America today? Not much. You know, we’re a country that’s more divided. And that saddens me. It concerns me, particularly as we face challenges, some of which, like the pandemic, are here domestically, some of which are global challenges brought on by some of our adversaries like Russia or China or North Korea or Iran. But we are divided as a country.

“One thing that brings us together is our military. I think most people acknowledge and respect the role that our military plays. Another is infrastructure. It’s an issue where traditionally Republicans and Democrats have been able to come together and say, ‘We may disagree on taxes and health care and all sorts of other things, but on this issue of having strong infrastructure, we can come together.’ And again, I think it’s because it makes sense economically, also, it’s popular. People know that when they’re driving over potholes or getting trucks stuck in traffic jams or not being able to get a product because the ports are backed up, which they are right now. Our ports are inefficient. And therefore, people literally can’t get products, they can’t get cars or they can’t get an electronic device, that’s all part of this. So this is one that ought to bring us together, and it does bring us together.

“The polling out there shows us, by the way, there’s two polls in the past few months that both said 87 percent of the American people want us to work on this infrastructure project on a bipartisan basis and get it done. Those numbers are unbelievable. And it was exactly 87 percent in both polls, interestingly, even though there were one with CBS and one was CNBC. But forget the polls for a minute, just go home and talk to people.

“They do want to make sure that we’re not raising taxes to do this. They don’t want to see us helping the economy long-term with infrastructure, but then hurting the economy short-term with higher taxes. And I agree. And we don’t do that here. That’s what’s particularly great about this approach is that we’ve said we’re going to pull out core infrastructure only and we’re not going to raise taxes. So we have the funds in here to be able to help with regard to our highways, our bridges, our ports, our waterways, our broadband expansion. But we also have the ability for us to do that in a way that makes sense for all Americans.

“In Ohio, it’s going to help us do something else that’s important and that is help with regard to some of our big infrastructure projects. I’ll talk about one tonight briefly, the Brent Spence Bridge. This is in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. It is a critical bridge because it’s where I-75 and I-71 come together, and therefore, it’s a bottleneck. Twice as many cars drive on that bridge every day as it was built for. Twice as many cars drive on that bridge every day – and trucks – as it was built for.

“It’s the reason that there’s a traffic jam there during rush hour, but it’s also a reason that it’s unsafe. Because over time, the shoulders have been removed to create another lane, and so if there’s an accident on that bridge, there’s nowhere to go. We had an accident a few months ago. It was two trucks that collided and we had to close it down for actually several weeks. And it was a mess. Talk about the effect on the economy. I mean, think about this. This is roughly three million people in the metropolitan area with Dayton and Cincinnati on one side, and the other side about a million people in northern Kentucky, and suddenly – and you’ve got traffic going all the way north and south from Canada and Mexico through there – all of a sudden you don’t have a bridge available because of the safety concerns that led to the accident.

“So we need a solution with regard to that bridge. And we’ve been talking about it for years. For 25 years, I’ve been involved in the effort to try to find the funding to replace this bridge because it needs it. Finally, we’ll have the ability to do that. We’ll have the ability to help with Kentucky and with Ohio and with the federal government working together with the local community to complete this Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project. Why? Because we’re putting unprecedented amount of money into not just bridges, but bridges like this one. Bridges that are major commercial bridges, bridges that are functionally obsolete, which ours has been for years. Bridges that desperately need the help.

“We also have a big aviation industry in Ohio. We support a lot of jobs through aviation. Our second biggest industry after agriculture in Ohio. There’s $25 billion in new spending for airports in here. That’s going to help airports build on the momentum that we need right now in Ohio to be able to expand our aerospace industry.

“On the shores of Lake Erie, on the north coast of Ohio, we will also have some help. Lake Erie supports fishing and tourism industries totaling over $10 billion. It provides drinking water for 10 million people and is the top tourist attraction in our state. But as anyone who has visited lake will tell you, they’ve got some serious long term health challenges with the lake. We have invasive species. We have a problem with toxic algal blooms. We have pollution. We have rising levels of the lake. This bill helps with regard to all of that.

“With regard to rising levels of the lake, there are communities along the lake that will tell you their water systems don’t work because the lake water has risen to the point where the outtake valve, which is next to the intake valve, is actually now under water. So the system doesn’t work well. In fact, the system is incredibly expensive to replace. So this will help with regard to that. As co-chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, I’m very pleased to see this investment because it will support the infrastructure investments in communities all along Lake Erie and every one of our Great Lakes.

“Finally and crucially, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act before us helps more than 300,000 Ohio households who lack access to this high-speed internet. That is incredibly important. Our legislation does everything that I’ve talked about in terms of infrastructure and that’s important. And again, we have the studies out there I talked about, including one from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton that has talked about how the economic growth from this study will actually make our economy better, create more jobs, and they say actually, over time, reduces the deficit based on looking at our study and looking at our proposal, specifically our proposal. So all that’s true.

“The final thing I guess I want to say is, it goes beyond infrastructure. It goes to how to get Washington back to a point where Washington is solving problems for the American people. And this bill is not perfect for anybody. No Republican, no Democrat. Why? It’s a bipartisan compromise. You know, again, we started off with a product that President Biden introduced that was $2.65 trillion, a huge package called infrastructure, but most of it was not for infrastructure. It had huge tax increases in it, the highest tax increase, it would have been, in American history. It would have made our country less competitive, in my view. We said, ‘OK, let’s find a group of Democrats and Republicans and let’s agree to pull out the core parts of this, the core infrastructure and find a way to pay for it without raising those taxes.’ And that’s what we did.

“And we worked hard to create a product that was fair for everybody, but that means finding that consensus. And that’s not easy. You know, we all had to make concessions. But at the end of the day, we’ve got a product $550 billion over the next five years, which will be spread out, spent over many, many years, that will put America back on top in terms of infrastructure. Put us in a position where, for our kids and our grandkids, they’re going to have a more productive, more efficient economy, one that produces more, one that has the ability for America to say to the world, ‘Look at us again. We’re back. We’re back.’

“We now have an infrastructure system with our ports and our roads and our bridges, with our water infrastructure, with our broadband, that can be, once again, a model for the rest of the world and help move us forward and ensure that every American has the opportunity to succeed. So that bipartisan process in and of itself, I think, is an accomplishment of this legislation.

“The underlying bill is what’s most important, I suppose. But just being able to show the Republicans and Democrats can come together in this town and get something done that’s positive for our country – that in and of itself is an accomplishment.”

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