On Senate Floor, Portman Urges Colleagues to Put Differences Aside & Work in a Bipartisan Manner to Address Challenges Caused by COVID-19 Pandemic
WASHINGTON, DC – This afternoon on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) urged his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to put their difference aside and to work in a bipartisan manner in order to address the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and help the American people. He expressed disappointment that Senate Democrats rejected a simple, common-sense proposal offered by Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) to extend, for one week, the $600 enhanced federal unemployment insurance benefit that is set to expire tomorrow, July 31. Such a proposal would have given both parties additional time to continue bipartisan discussions while maintaining without federal UI benefits expiring.
Portman discussed how the proposal introduced by Majority Leader McConnell earlier this week is a credible starting point in negotiations that includes substantial funding for many of the same priorities Senate Democrats are asking be included. Portman believes, given the importance of this legislation and the amount of taxpayer funds being spent, that it is critical that both parties work together in a bipartisan way to ensure the health care, economy, education, and other needs of Americans during this ongoing pandemic are addressed.
A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“We’ve already had this debate once today when the Democratic Leader chose to offer this motion knowing that, of course, it’s not serious. What he’s talking about here, just after having rejected a very commonsense proposal, which is a one-week extension for the unemployment insurance -- by the way, at $600, which is exactly what the Democrats say they want. They want to keep it at $600 even though, as we know from numerous studies, that means that for many people, in fact 68 percent of the people on unemployment insurance, based on the University of Chicago study, for 68 percent of those folks they’re making more on unemployment insurance than they can make at work. And I think all of us here in this chamber want to be sure that folks are taken care of.
“In fact, we just voted on legislation to provide the ability to be able to debate this very issue and other issues. But to say that people should be making substantially more for not working rather than working is something that I think even a lot of my Democratic colleagues do not find acceptable. But instead the Minority Leader is once again offering the HEROES Act as he’s done before. Recall, this is the House-passed legislation that was passed actually a while ago, during different times, but it’s $3.5 trillion. That’s what the CBO says, $3.5 trillion. That makes it of course the most expensive piece of legislation ever passed by either body any time in our history by far. By the way, it has a number of provisions that have nothing to do with COVID-19.
“So here we are in the middle of this crisis. In many places it’s getting worse, not better. We do need to act but we need to be sure we’re acting in an effective, targeted way and not putting things out there, $3.5 trillion bill including many things having nothing to do with COVID-19. It has immigration policies changes there. We can debate those separately. Immigration policy issues are very contentious and are tough things for us to resolve in any context, but certainly we shouldn’t put it in the COVID-19 bill. It has unprecedented mandates on the states that says to the states, you have to do elections the way Congress wants to do it. You have to do mail in ballots the way we’re saying you have to do it and you have to use the kind of ideas that we say you have to use. This has always been in the province of the states, and again, a lot of my Democratic colleagues agree it should continue to be in the province of the states to make those kind of detailed decisions on elections.
“It doubles the amount of money in the HEROES Act that goes to the states as compared to what even the National Governor’s Association is asking for. So $3.5 trillion begins to add up when you do things like that. You give twice as much to the states as the states are even asking for. And of course one of my favorites and I know again the Senator from New York feels strongly about this from a tax policy point of view, but it includes in the COVID-19 bill a very expensive change in tax policy that actually is a huge tax break for wealthy individuals. That’s repealing the SALT changes that were made. Over 50 percent of the benefit of this goes to the top one percent. That’s based on the tax policy center. Based on our own Joint Committee on Taxation, a nonpartisan group here in Congress. What they’re trying to get through in their legislation, the HEROES Act, 40 percent of that benefit or more, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, goes to those with income over $1 million. What’s that doing in the COVID-19 bill?
“The Democratic Leader talked about the need for more money for testing. I couldn’t agree with him more. And by the way, the proposal that was presented by Senator McConnell earlier this week has a lot more money for testing. It also has more money for antiviral medications, for vaccines, for ensuring that workplaces can be safe. It has the same amount of money, maybe even a little bit more, the senator from Tennessee can tell us, for our schools, to be able to reopen our schools safely. So there’s a lot of common ground here. I think we can find it. I really do. I know that today has not been an example of that.
“We’re even rejecting here a moment ago a seven-day simple extension of $600 per week. But when I look at it, I see the schools’ money being practically identical, I see the tax provisions that we have to help encourage people to go back to work, encourage companies and nonprofits to be able to put measures in place to make the workplace safe like Plexiglas shields or more hand sanitizer or PPE , these are all things we can agree with. Even on the issue of unemployment insurance, and I’ve talked to many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle about this. I think there are ways we can get there. I think Democrats realize $600 per week does create that disincentive because it is on average 134 percent of what people were making in the private sector. So we can come up with a way to deal with that. One is a return to work bonus which is an idea that has, I think, a lot of bipartisan appeal.
“So let’s put aside these games. Let’s put aside these extreme positions. Let’s figure out how we can come together. This evening was not a good example of that having rejected the seven-day extension of the $600 per week on unemployment insurance. But I think now we have this opportunity with the legislation that was passed earlier today to begin to have that debate. We can have the debate on unemployment insurance. We can have it on a whole range of issues, how we deal with schools, how we deal with the health care crisis that we have, the underlying crisis. We can deal with all these issues in a way that enables us to find common ground to create real solutions for the people we represent as we face this unprecedented pandemic. With that, Mr. President, I object.”