Rob’s Rundown: Week of April 8 – April 12, 2019

April 12, 2019 | Rob's Rundown

This week on the Senate Floor, Senator Portman discussed the ongoing trade negotiations with China, the importance of securing enforceable and sustainable structural reforms to China’s economy as part of any agreement, and the need to create a level-playing field on behalf of American employers and workers. Portman supports the Trump administration’s efforts to hold China accountable for violating prior commitments to not force U.S. companies to give Chinese competitors valuable intellectual property and engaging in nonmarket practices like subsidization and state owned enterprises. He hopes a new agreement will bring greater equity and balance to the trading relationship between the U.S. and China.

In addition, Portman introduced several pieces of legislation this week including the bipartisan the Responsibility for Unaccompanied Minors Act, which will require HHS to keep better track of and care for unaccompanied alien children (UACs); the Protect Act, which will protect Americans with pre-existing conditions and ensures that they will never be denied health care coverage or be charged more because of a pre-existing condition; Domenic and Ed’s Law, legislation to allow a parent whose child develops a total and permanent disability to qualify for student loan discharge; the bipartisan Gold Star Spouses and Spouses of Injured Servicemembers Leasing Relief Expansion Act, which will expand existing financial protections for military families’ residential and car leases if a servicemember dies or sustains a catastrophic injury or illness during military service; and the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) Amendments, legislation that will impose stricter ethics requirements on advisory committee members, require agencies to make more information about committees public, make the procedures for establishing a committee and selecting members more transparent, and extend FACA to cover additional advisory committees that are currently exempt.

 

Lastly, Portman introduced Ed Crawford at his Senate Foreign Relations Committee nomination hearing to serve as the United States Ambassador to Ireland. Crawford is a Cleveland, Ohio native and Portman is confident that he will serve with integrity and distinction as Ambassador to Ireland. He also introduced Jeffrey A. Rosen at his Senate Judiciary Committee nomination hearing to be United States Deputy Attorney General. Rosen worked closely with Portman as his General Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor at the Office of Management and Budget.

 

For a more detailed look at Senator Portman’s week, please see the following: 

 

Tuesday, April 10

At Hearing, Senator Portman Highlights the Importance of Lower Costs and Transparency in Drug Pricing

Portman questioned Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM) executives on practices involving certain PBMs in Ohio, the role that they play in the prescription drug supply chain, and ways to improve transparency in drug pricing. Portman has been active in examining all sides of the drug supply chain, in order to identify bipartisan ways to improve the system and to lower costs.  Last year, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which Portman chairs, unveiled a report detailing how drug manufacturer kaléo exploited the opioid crisis by increasing the price of its naloxone drug EVZIO by more than 600 percent by 2016 (from the initial price of $575 per unit to $3,750 and then to $4,100 11 months later), launching a new distribution model planning to “capitalize on the opportunity” of “opioid overdose at epidemic levels.” After the report was made public, kaleo reduced the price from $4,100 to $178 per unit.

 

Senator Portman has introduced the REFUND Act which would enable Medicare to recoup money from drug companies who were paid for wasted medications, and provide savings to seniors enrolled in Medicare.  He has also cosponsored bipartisan legislation designed to encourage competition in the prescription drug marketplace and put an end to the harmful patent strategies that block new drugs from coming to market.

 

Excerpts of his questioning can be found here and a video can be found here.

At Hearing, Senator Portman Questions Experts on the Drug Trafficking Crisis at the Southern Border

Portman questioned experts on the drug trafficking crisis at the southern border, the increase in cross-border fentanyl trafficking, and what more the federal government can do to help address this crisis. Portman has led efforts in the Senate to combat the influx of deadly synthetic drugs, like fentanyl, into the United States from foreign countries, especially China. His bipartisan legislation, the Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, which became law last year, is working to help reduce the supply of fentanyl shipped into Ohio through the U.S. Postal Service.  The witnesses confirmed that the STOP Act was making a difference.

 

As the chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), Portman conducted an 18-month investigation into this issue and released a stunning bipartisan report detailing how drug traffickers exploit vulnerabilities in our international mail system to easily ship synthetic drugs like fentanyl from China into the United States through the U.S. Postal Service. The STOP Act closes this loophole. 

 

Excerpts of his questioning can be found here and a video can be found here.

 

On Fox News, Portman Reiterates Need to Address Border Crisis

On Fox News’ Your World with guest host Sandra Smith, Portman once again voiced his support for addressing the border crisis through both increased resources and legislative action.

Transcript of his remarks can be found here and a video can be found here.

At Hearing, Senator Portman Questions Experts on E-Verify, Protecting Unaccompanied Children at the Southern Border

Portman questioned experts on whether requiring employers to verify employee work status through E-Verify would deter people from coming to the country illegally.  They confirmed that E-Verify would help reduce illegal immigration.  Sen. Portman has introduced a bill to require employers to use E-Verify nationwide.

 

He also asked the officials how they are working to ensure the safety and protection of unaccompanied children at the southern border. Since 2015, the Permanent Subcomittee on Investigations (PSI), chaired by Portman, has been conducting oversight of HHS’ program to place unaccompanied minors with sponsors in this country following reports that HHS placed eight unaccompanied minors with human traffickers who put those children into forced labor in Ohio.  PSI has documented its findings in two reports, one released on August 15, 2018 and the other on January 28, 2016.  Last year, Portman introduced bipartisan legislation – the Responsibility for Unaccompanied Minors Act – which requires the Department of Health and Human Services to better care for and keep track of unaccompanied minors and ensure they appear at their immigration court proceedings.  He will re-introduce the legislation in this new Congress soon.

 

Excerpts of his questioning can be found here and a video can be found here.

 

Wednesday, April 10

 

On Senate Floor, Portman Discusses Trade Negotiations With China, Importance of Structural Reforms in Any Agreement

 

On the Senate floor, Portman discussed the ongoing trade negotiations with China, the importance of securing enforceable and sustainable structural reforms to China’s economy as part of any agreement, and the need to create a level-playing field on behalf of American employers and workers. Portman supports the Trump administration’s efforts to hold China accountable for violating prior commitments to not force U.S. companies to give Chinese competitors valuable intellectual property and engaging in nonmarket practices like subsidization and state owned enterprises. He hopes a new agreement will bring greater equity and balance to the trading relationship between the U.S. and China.

 

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

Portman Introduces Jeff Rosen at Nomination Hearing to be United States Deputy Attorney General

Portman introduced Jeffrey A. Rosen at his Judiciary Committee nomination hearing to be United States Deputy Attorney General. Rosen worked closely with Portman as his General Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor at the Office of Management and Budget and Portman is confident that he will serve with integrity and distinction as Deputy Attorney General.

 

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

 

At Hearing, Senator Portman Highlights Need for IRS Reform

 

Portman questioned IRS Commissioner, Charles Rettig, on how Congress can assist him in making the IRS more accountable and responsive to taxpayers. Commissioner Rettig agreed with Senator Portman that a functioning and effective IRS Oversight Board is needed to help the agency navigate strategic decisions and bring greater continuity when there are changes in agency personnel.

 

Excerpts of his questioning can be found here and a video can be found here.

 

Portman Joins GOP Senators in Introducing the Protect Act to Ensure Protections and Affordable Coverage For Americans With Pre-Existing Conditions

 

Portman joined Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Senate Republicans today in introducing the Protect Act, legislation that protects Americans with pre-existing conditions and ensures that they will never be denied health care coverage or be charged more because of a pre-existing condition.

 

“No American family should ever have to worry that they will be denied health care coverage because of a pre-existing condition,” said Senator Portman. “This is a promise to the American people and I will continue to support this principle and fight to ensure it remains the law of the land.”

 

At Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, Portman Questions Secretary Pompeo on Global Engagement Center, Continuing Aid for Ukraine, and Expanding Sanctions on Russia

Portman thanked Secretary Mike Pompeo for his request of $76.5 million for the Global Engagement Center. Portman discussed his bipartisan efforts to fully utilize the Global Engagement Center, which was tasked with leading U.S. government efforts to counter propaganda and disinformation from countries like Russia and China through legislation that Portman and Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) wrote and successfully passed in 2016. Portman also highlighted the importance in continuing to provide assistance to Ukraine in order for the country to defend their sovereign territory. Finally, Portman questioned Secretary Pompeo on the need to expand Russia sanctions legislation so that the State and Treasury Departments would have the necessary authorities to sanction any Russian individual that undermines American and allied interests.

Excerpts of his questioning can be found here and a video can be found here.

Portman, Coons, King Introduce Domenic and Ed’s Law to Provide Relief to Parents of Disabled Children

 

Portman, Chris Coons (D-DE) and Angus King (I-ME) introduced Domenic and Ed’s Law, legislation to allow a parent whose child develops a total and permanent disability to qualify for student loan discharge. This legislation was originally part of the Senators’ Stop Taxing Death and Disability Act which would both amend the Higher Education Act to provide student loan forgiveness to parents who take out loans for their children and also change the Internal Revenue Code to exempt individuals from the tax liability created by the forgiveness of their student loans in cases of death and disability.

 

“Families like the Carducci family of Steubenville, Ohio, whose son Domenic has become permanently and totally disabled are going through unimaginable grief,” said Portman. “Because of this tragic disability, they cannot afford a massive student loan bill. The last thing that families in these situations need is that kind of financial burden. I remain committed to addressing this legislative issue fully, and urge my colleagues to support providing relief to families enduring such difficult circumstances.”

Thursday, April 11 

Portman, Warren Unveil Bipartisan Bill to Enhance Financial Protections for Surviving Military Spouses and Spouses of Injured Servicemembers

Portman and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced the bipartisan Gold Star Spouses and Spouses of Injured Servicemembers Leasing Relief Expansion Act. Military families may relocate frequently or suddenly as the result of a servicemember’s military orders, and these moves often involve entering into leases for a house, apartment, or other dwelling, or an automobile. If a servicemember dies or sustains a catastrophic injury or illness during military service, his or her spouse may be forced to pay off the remainder of that residential or automobile lease or face a penalty for breaking the lease.

The Portman-Warren Gold Star Spouses Leasing Relief Act, included in the omnibus Veterans Benefits and Transition Act passed into law last year, ensured that Gold Star spouses can terminate a residential lease within one year of a servicemember’s death.

The bipartisan Gold Star Spouses and Spouses of Injured Servicemembers Leasing Relief Expansion Act, which was simultaneously introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) and Cheri Bustos (D-IL), amends the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to expand existing financial protections for military families’ residential and car leases in the following ways:

  • Allow the spouse of a servicemember who died while in military service to terminate a motor vehicle lease during the one-year period beginning on the date of the death of the servicemember, if that servicemember died while in military service or while performing full-time National Guard duty, active Guard and Reserve duty, or inactive-duty training.
  • Allow the spouse of a servicemember who sustained a catastrophic injury or illness to terminate a residential lease AND a motor vehicle lease during the one-year period beginning on the date of the injury or illness of the servicemember, if that servicemember sustained the injury or illness while in military service or while performing full-time National Guard duty, active Guard and Reserve duty, or inactive-duty training.

“Military spouses dealing with the death or catastrophic disability of a loved one as the result of their service should have the ability to end leases without incurring high termination fees,” said Senator Portman.  “This bipartisan bill, with support from veterans’ groups, will provide much-needed relief for these families.  I encourage my Senate colleagues to join me in supporting this common-sense legislation.”

Portman, Blumenthal, Lankford, Carper Reintroduce Bill to Improve Care & Safety for Unaccompanied Minors, Accelerate Immigration Court Proceedings

 

Portman, Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), James Lankford (R-OK), and Tom Carper (D-DE) today reintroduced bipartisan legislation – the Responsibility for Unaccompanied Minors Act – that requires HHS to keep better track of and care for unaccompanied alien children (UACs).  This measure, which was first introduced in September 2018, will help both ensure the children’s safety and ensure they appear at their immigration court proceedings.  A summary of the bill is here and the bill text is here.

 

Since October 2014, HHS has placed more than 183,000 unaccompanied alien children (UACs) with adult sponsors in the United States while they wait for their immigration court proceedings.  Since 2015, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) has been conducting oversight of HHS’ program to place unaccompanied minors with sponsors in this country following reports that HHS placed eight unaccompanied minors with human traffickers who put those children into forced labor in Ohio.  PSI, led by Chairman Portman and Ranking Member Carper, has documented its findings in two reports, one released on August 15, 2018 and the other on January 28, 2016.  PSI learned that no agency takes responsibility for enforcing sponsor agreements to care these children once HHS places children with sponsors.  HHS has started calling the children 30 days after placement.  In April 2018, the Subcommittee learned that out of 7,635 calls made from October to December 2017, 28 children had run away from their sponsors, and HHS could not determine with certainty the location of 1,475 of them.  The FY 2018 Q3 results were similar. From April 1 to June 30, 2018, HHS tried to call 11,254 UACs and their sponsors.  Twenty-five had run away from their sponsors, and HHS could not determine the whereabouts of 1,488 of those children.

 

Based on those oversight findings, Senators Portman, Blumenthal, Lankford, and Carper today reintroduced the Responsibility for Unaccompanied Minors Act.  The bill clarifies that HHS is responsible for ensuring these children’s safety.  It requires HHS to run background checks before placing children with sponsors, to make sure sponsors live up to their agreement to care for the children and ensure they appear at their immigration court proceedings, and to notify state governments before placing children in those states.  And it increases immigration court judges so the Department of Justice can process all immigration cases more efficiently. 

 

“This bipartisan legislation is designed to address some of the problems we’ve found that led to HHS placing eight children with human traffickers and into forced labor in Ohio,” said Senator Portman. “This bill will ensure that we keep track of unaccompanied minors in our country, protect them from trafficking and abuse, and help ensure they appear for their immigration court proceedings. These efforts are critical for safeguarding these children and upholding our immigration system. This isn’t a partisan issue.  Many of the problems that exist today began during the previous administration and have continued under this one, and we have a responsibility to get it right.”

 

Portman Introduces Cleveland Native Ed Crawford at Nomination Hearing to be U.S. Ambassador to Ireland

 

Rob Portman introduced Ed Crawford at his Senate Foreign Relations Committee nomination hearing to serve as the United States Ambassador to Ireland. Crawford is a Cleveland, Ohio native and Portman is confident that he will serve with integrity and distinction as Ambassador to Ireland.

 

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

 

Portman, Hassan Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Transparency of Federal Advisory Committees

Portman and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) today introduced the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) Amendments, legislation that will impose stricter ethics requirements on advisory committee members, require agencies to make more information about committees public, make the procedures for establishing a committee and selecting members more transparent, and extend FACA to cover additional advisory committees that are currently exempt. Advisory committees are generally composed of individuals outside government who advise, and consult with, federal agencies on policy-making.  The text of the bill is here.

“American taxpayers deserve greater transparency and accountability from their government, and improving the transparency of federal advisory committees is essential to accomplishing that goal,” said Senator Portman.  “I’m particularly pleased that this bipartisan measure will strengthen the independence of federal advisory committees and close loopholes that permit agencies to skirt existing transparency requirements. At the end of the day American taxpayers deserve evidence-based, rather than interest-based, decisions by their government, and this bill will help to ensure that.”

Senate Passes Portman, Brown Resolution Recognizing Easterseals for 100 Years of Service

 

The Senate passed a resolution introduced by U.S. Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of  Easterseals, a national nonprofit dedicated to supporting individuals living with disability and their families.

 

“Easterseals has been a champion for those with disabilities, including returning servicemen and women, since its founding,” said Portman. For the past 100 years, Easterseals has led the charge in advocating for people with disabilities and ensuring that they can live and work in our communities. Ohioans have always fought for those in need, and nothing demonstrates this better than Easterseals and its founders.  I look forward to what they do in the next 100 years.” 

 

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Bipartisan leaders of Senate panel call for federal probe of PBMs’ pricing methods

After a bipartisan collection of leaders called Tuesday for a federal probe of “spread pricing,” executives of the leading pharmacy benefit managers said they would not oppose congressional efforts to prohibit the practice, in which the companies buy a prescription drug from a pharmacy and then sell it for a higher price to Medicare or Medicaid.

At a contentious Senate Finance Committee hearing Tuesday on Capitol Hill, the executives testified they work to obtain the best possible price for the health plans they represent. But under questioning from Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, they said they would not work against any measure to ban spread pricing.

“One hundred percent support,” said William Fleming, president of Healthcare Services Humana. Three others said they would not oppose such a bill while John Prince, chief executive officer of OptumRX, said his company is neutral on the issue, adding “we don’t do spread pricing in Medicare.”

The questioning took place just hours after Wyden, the committee’s ranking Democrat, and Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the panel’s chairman, said they want the inspector general of the U.S. Department Health and Human Services to “take a hard look” at spread pricing.

“That is plain old price gouging,” Wyden said, calling spread pricing a “ripoff to taxpayers.”

 

(Bipartisan leaders of Senate panel call for federal probe of PBMs’ pricing methods. Columbus Dispatch. April 9, 2019.)  

Sen. Portman: 'Money is not enough' to fix the border crisis

Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said on “Your World” Tuesday that money is not enough to fix the situation on the U.S.- Mexico border and that the United States’ asylum laws need to be fixed in order solve the humanitarian crisis.

“Money is not enough because until you change the laws you'll continue to have this magnet, people come into United States,” Portman told guest host Sandra Smith.

 

Portman laid out the asylum situation and how he said it is adding to the problems with illegal immigration.

“Here's the problem, Sandra. When someone comes (to the) United States and they're a family from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, they're being told by the traffickers, and it's true, you ask for asylum and then during the time at which you have to wait for your asylum hearing you're allowed to go into the United States into the community,” Portman said.

The senator added that around “85 percent” of those applying for asylum are turned down but that the process takes so long many disappear into the United States while the process is taking place.

Portman also reacted to President Trump speaking about family separation on the border and blaming his predecessor.

“The cages that were shown, very inappropriate, they were built by President Obama and the Obama administration –not by Trump,” Trump said Tuesday at the White House.

Portman supported Trump and once again noted it was up to Congress to enact change in order to solve these problems.

“I do not support separating the families but I do support changing that Flores decision so you can keep people in a family unit. That's the whole point. And that's what the president has called for. It requires a change in law. You can't just do it through executive action or more money,” Portman said.

“It's a change in the law to be able to say ‘well, Congress has looked at this. We've decided this is not working.’”

(Sen. Portman: 'Money is not enough' to fix the border crisis. Fox News.  April 9, 2019.) 

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