Rob’s Rundown: Week of January 3 - January 7, 2022

January 7, 2022 | Rob's Rundown

Senator Portman isolated at home in Ohio this week after testing positive for COVID-19. His full statement is here.

On Tuesday, Portman joined nine of his Senate colleagues in sending a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas ​​and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg requesting information about the two Departments’ ability to meet their responsibilities, as co-Sector Risk Management Agencies (SRMA), to detect, prevent, and respond to cyber threats to the nation’s critical transportation infrastructure. Cyberattacks on American transportation infrastructure are escalating in frequency and severity. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2021 delineated specific responsibilities for SRMAs to secure critical infrastructure. 

Portman took to Twitter to mark the one-year anniversary of the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol as a stain on our nation’s history, stressing the need for us to be sure it never happens again.  

Finally, Portman honored his friend and former colleague, Johnny Isakson, who was remembered at his memorial service in Atlanta. Before his retirement, Portman paid tribute to Isakson on the Senate floor, calling him the “Velvet Hammer.”  

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

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Portman, Rosen, Wicker Lead Bipartisan Letter to DHS, DOT Requesting Information on Cybersecurity of Nation’s Transportation Infrastructure 

Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Jacky Rosen (D-NV), a member of both the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and Roger Wicker (R-MS), Ranking Member of the Commerce Committee, led a bipartisan group of 10 senators in sending a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas ​​and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg requesting information about the two Departments’ ability to meet their responsibilities, as co-Sector Risk Management Agencies (SRMA), to detect, prevent, and respond to cyber threats to the nation’s critical transportation infrastructure. Cyberattacks on American transportation infrastructure are escalating in frequency and severity. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2021 delineated specific responsibilities for SRMAs to secure critical infrastructure. 

A bipartisan group of senators joined Senators Portman, Rosen and Wicker in sending this letter, including Senators Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Todd Young (R-IN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and James Lankford (R-OK).

“Cyberattacks on American transportation infrastructure are escalating in frequency and severity, as evidenced by the ransomware attack earlier this year on Colonial Pipeline, one of the nation’s largest pipelines, which led to the shutdown of a network that carries nearly half the gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel for the East Coast. At the same time, many state and local transit agencies are not fully equipped to implement more than basic cybersecurity protections. In fact, a study by the Mineta Transportation Institute found that only 60% of transit agencies had a cybersecurity plan in place last year,” wrote the senators. “As such, federal efforts to ensure that our nation is properly prepared to address cybersecurity threats to the transportation system require a delicate balance to provide critical assistance to entities that need new or additional cybersecurity support, while recognizing effective practices that some entities already have in place.”

“With this in mind, we request information about how DHS and DOT are meeting their six responsibilities as co-SMRAs,” the senators continued. “Ransomware attacks on the transportation industry, just one derivative of cyber-attacks, increased by 186% between June 2020 and June 2021. Therefore, we request information on any efforts to update the Transportation Systems Sector-Specific Plan to provide the most effective assistance possible to improve the security and resilience posture of the nation’s transportation system.”

The full text of the letter can be found here.

Statement from Senator Rob Portman on Positive COVID Test Result

Portman released the following statement this morning: 

“In preparation for returning to Washington, DC, I took an at-home COVID test last night and it was positive. I am asymptomatic and feel fine. I have been in contact with the Attending Physician and my personal doctor. I am following their medical advice and following CDC guidelines and isolating for the recommended five days. I will work remotely from home this week, but will not be able to be in Washington, DC for votes.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Portman, Brown Urge House & Senate Leaders to Swiftly Pass Revised Legislation to Invest in Manufacturing and Address Global Semiconductor Shortage

U.S. Senators and Senate Auto Caucus co-chairs Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) sent a letter to House and Senate leaders urging swift passage of revised bipartisan legislation to invest in manufacturing and address the global semiconductor shortage facing auto manufacturing. Passage of bipartisan legislation like the CHIPS For America Act, the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), and the inclusion of Portman and Brown’s Leveling the Playing Field 2.0 Act, would make a once-in-a-generation investment in American science, technology and innovation to help the U.S. preserve its competitive edge.

“The need for this funding is self-evident: over the summer, General Motors, Ford, and other automotive companies announced short-term plant closures in Lima and Toledo, in many cases due to pandemic-related production issues at overseas manufacturers of automotive-grade chips,” wrote the senators. “In light of the far-reaching consequences for our nation’s economy and national security, there is bipartisan consensus in favor of funding the CHIPS for America Act to catalyze new semiconductor investments in the United States – we should move quickly to ensconce that consensus in law.”

Congress has already provided a bipartisan solution to strengthen U.S. competitiveness by including the CHIPS for America Act in the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. The bipartisan USICA – which includes key provisions – will provide more than $50 billion to fully implement this important program. In June, the Senate passed USICA, which invests in American workers and our nation’s long-term competitiveness by shoring up critical industries like semiconductors, which are facing a global shortage. All sectors of the economy need access to semiconductor chips; however, the need is particularly significant for the domestic auto industry. Today’s cars include high-end electronic components that improve vehicle efficiency and safety, and these electronic components rely upon semiconductors to function.

Portman and Brown have been working to secure solutions for the semiconductor crisis for months. The senators led colleagues in sending a letter to Brian Deese, Director of the National Economic Council, in February, urging the administration to support efforts to secure the necessary funding to swiftly implement the semiconductor-related provisions in the most recent NDAA, to boost semiconductor manufacturing and incentivize the domestic production of semiconductors in the future.

In April, Portman and Brown introduced the Leveling the Playing Field 2.0 Act, bipartisan legislation to strengthen U.S. trade remedy laws and ensure they remain effective tools to fight back against unfair trade practices and protect American workers. The Senators’ legislation would establish the new concept of “successive investigations” to improve the effectiveness of the U.S. trade remedy system in responding to repeat offenders and serial cheaters, helping to level the playing field for American workers. Reps. Terri Sewell (D-AL) and Bill Johnson (R-OH) introduced companion legislation in the House.

The full letter can be found here.


Pro-vaccine Republican Sen. Rob Portman contracts COVID-19

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a pro-vaccine Republican from Ohio, said Tuesday he has tested positive for COVID-19.

Portman, who was vaccinated and got a booster, said he learned of his condition from an at-home test taken Monday night in preparation for returning to the Capitol.

“I am asymptomatic and feel fine,” he wrote in a statement posted to Twitter. 

He said he will be isolating for five days, in keeping with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance and doctors’ advice. Working remotely this week will mean he is not able to be in Washington for votes, he said.

Portman, 66, has broken with the vaccine skeptics in his party since the early days of the pandemic, arguing the shots are the best way to avoid serious illness and hospitalization.

In November 2020, he announced that he was enrolled in a clinical trial for the COVID-19 vaccine then being developed by Janssen-Johnson & Johnson, which was being managed by a research center in the Cincinnati area, where he lives. 

“I look at it as a way I can play a small role in supporting our country’s health care response to this pandemic,” he said in statement at the time. Portman said that the more people who were enrolled, the sooner the vaccine could get through the FDA approval process and be available to the public.

Two other Ohio lawmakers, Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and Republican U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, announced testing positive for the virus last year. 

A Stalled Retirement Bill Could Be Passed in 2022. What It Will Mean for You.

Bipartisan legislation aimed at helping Americans build their retirement savings, which bogged down in 2021, has better prospects in 2022, according to those in the financial-services industry.

The legislation would expand automatic enrollment of workers in employee-sponsored savings plans and delay the age when retirees must begin taking distributions from them. 

The Securing a Strong Retirement Act of 2021, sometimes called the Secure Act 2.0, passed the House Ways and Means Committee by unanimous vote in May, setting it up for a vote on the House floor. The bill subsequently stalled as Washington’s focus shifted to President Biden’s Build Back Better proposal, a multitrillion-dollar spending bill.

Diane Boyle, senior vice president for government relations at the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, said she’s “optimistic that it’ll get passed” in 2022. The bill was put on hold as Democrats considered including broad retirement savings provisions in the Build Back Better legislation, components that appear to have been scrapped, she said. 

The Securing a Strong Retirement Act was introduced by U.S. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), whose office declined to comment on the bill’s status. J.P. Freire, spokesman for the Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee, said they “hope to return to making progress” on the bill in 2022. 

“Unfortunately, Democrats jeopardized the hard work of both parties by jamming partisan provisions into their tax-increase and spending bill,” Freire said. “As a result, we now have to wait to find out what actually gets passed, if anything. We remain confident that the bipartisan work in the Securing a Strong Retirement Act is the best path forward.”

Among other things, the Securing a Strong Retirement Act would: 

● Expand automatic enrollment of workers in employer-sponsored retirement saving plans. Employees would be automatically enrolled in plans such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s unless they opt out. Workers’ initial automatic contributions would be between 3% and 10% of pretax earnings, and that amount would be increased by 1% each year until reaching 10%.

● Raise the age at which seniors must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from their retirement savings accounts to 73 from 72. The bill subsequently would raise the age to 74 starting in 2029 and to 75 starting in 2032.

● Reduce the penalty for failure to take RMDs to 25% from 50%. In addition, if this failure is corrected in a timely manner, as defined by the bill, the penalty would be further reduced to 10%.

● Increase the limits on so-called catch-up contributions for employees ages 62 to 64. In 2021, these workers were allowed to contribute up to $6,500 to their retirement savings plans beyond the otherwise applicable limits. This bill would increase that amount to $10,000 and index it to inflation. 

● Index the catch-up contribution limit for individual retirement accounts to inflation. Currently, savers ages 50 and up may contribute an additional $1,000 annually to their IRAs, but that limit isn’t indexed to inflation. 

● Allow employers to match a worker’s student loan payment by making an equivalent contribution to that worker’s retirement savings plan. This provision is intended to help workers who can’t afford to save for retirement because of high student-loan debt, which causes them to miss out on their employers’ matching contributions to retirement savings plans.

Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) have introduced similar legislation, the Retirement Security and Savings Act, which has yet to advance through the Senate Finance Committee.

Dan Zielinski, chief strategic communications officer for the Insured Retirement Institute, which represents life insurers, asset managers and others, said there is a “significant appetite” on Capitol Hill to pass a retirement savings bill. He said the Senate and House likely will coalesce around provisions that can pass both chambers of Congress, either as a stand-alone bill or as part of broader legislation.

Zielinski pointed to the Secure Act (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement) of 2019, a similar bill signed into law as part of an appropriations bill for fiscal year 2020.

“Typically, these bills are attached to some larger vehicle to get through,” he said. “Step 1 is to get a consensus on a broad package for retirement security, and Step 2 is to identify potential vehicles that it can be attached to, and we’re pretty confident that we’ll see those opportunities arise. With the support that this issue has on both sides of the aisle, we’re fairly optimistic that it can get done in 2022.”