Rob’s Rundown: Week of July 22 – July 26, 2019

July 26, 2019 | Rob's Rundown

This week, Senator Portman voted to advance legislation from the Senate Finance Committee to help crack down on high prescription drug prices and lower out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors.  In particular, it includes Portman’s bipartisan REFUND Act, which enables Medicare to recoup money from drug companies that were paid for wasted medications and provide savings to seniors enrolled in Medicare.  In addition, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed two of Portman’s bills: the Deepfake Report Act and the Federal Permitting Reform and Jobs Act

As Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), Senator Portman released the findings of several new U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports. The first reveals that incidents of abuse in nursing homes across the country more than doubled between 2013 and 2017. Physical and mental/verbal abuse occurred most often, followed by sexual abuse, and staff were often the perpetrators of the abuse deficiencies cited. The second examined issues relating to commenter identity verification.  GAO reviewed the 10 federal agencies that receive the highest volume of comments.  The review demonstrates inconsistencies between agencies’ policies and the difficulty of using data associated with comments.  Senator Portman and Cardin also released a joint statement on news that Equifax, one of the nation’s largest consumer reporting agencies, agreed to pay up to $700 million to settle consumer claims and federal and state investigations into its 2017 data breach that compromised the sensitive information of more than 145 million American consumers. In March, Senators Portman and Carper published a report detailing the repeated failures over years on the part of Equifax that led to the devastating data breach in 2017.

Finally, Senator Portman delivered remarks on the Senate floor to provide an update on the ongoing crisis of drug addiction in the United States. Progress is being made in Ohio and nationwide in reducing overdose death rates due in part to some of his legislative priorities like the Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act (CARA), the 21st Century CURES Act, and the STOP Act, but overdose death rates for certain synthetic opioids like fentanyl, psychostimulants like methamphetamine, and cocaine have all continued to rise. Portman recently introduced the Combating Meth & Cocaine Act to give state and local governments greater flexibility with federal grant money to address the resurgence of meth and cocaine affecting our communities.

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

Monday July 22, 2019

Portman Applauds $9 Million Dept. of Transportation Grant to Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency to Invest in Irishtown Bend Infrastructure

Portman applauded the U.S. Department of Transportation for awarding a $9 million Infrastructure For Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant to the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA). The INFRA Grants program provides dedicated, discretionary funding for projects that address critical issues facing our nation’s highways and bridges. NOACA will use the funding to install approximately 2,600 linear feet of sheet steel bulkheads to stabilize Irishtown Bend in the Cuyahoga Ship channel. Portman released the following statement:

“This is great news for northeast Ohio, and I was pleased to support this critical infrastructure project.  This important project to stabilize the Irishtown Bend area along the Cuyahoga River will help maintain this essential shipping channel, strengthen the economic viability of the region and protect the more than 20,000 jobs that rely on the river and the economic activity it supports.”

Portman Applauds $2.6 Million Dept. of Transportation Grant to Central Ohio Transit Authority to Invest in Electrical Buses and Infrastructure

Portman applauded the U.S. Department of Transportation for awarding a $2.6 million Infrastructure For Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant to the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA). The INFRA Grants program provides dedicated, discretionary funding for projects that address critical issues facing our nation’s highways and bridges. COTA will use the funding to replace diesel buses in its fleet with electrical buses as well as the associated charging infrastructure. Portman released the following statement:

“This is great news for Columbus and Central Ohio and it furthers our efforts to make the region a global leader in smart transportation.  The grant will allow the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) to replace diesel buses in its fleet with electrical buses and the associated charging infrastructure, and it advances COTA’s goal of transitioning its entire fleet to low- and no-emission buses by 2025.”

Tuesday July 23, 2019

Portman, Carper Statement on Equifax Data Breach Settlement

Senators Portman and Carper, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), released a joint statement on news that Equifax, one of the nation’s largest consumer reporting agencies, agreed to pay up to $700 million to settle consumer claims and federal and state investigations into its 2017 data breach that compromised sensitive information of more than 145 million American consumers. In March, Senators Portman and Carper published a report detailing the repeated failures over years on the part of Equifax that led to the devastating data breach in 2017.

Following Request from Bipartisan Lawmakers, Independent Watchdog Reveals Increase of Abuse in Nursing Homes, Need for Improved Oversight

Senators Portman and Carper, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), along with Chuck Grassley and Ron Wyden, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Finance, released the findings of a new U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that assessed incidents of abuse of nursing home residents across the country. 

The report, which was requested by the bipartisan group of senators, reveals that abuse in nursing homes across the country has more than doubled between 2013 and 2017. Physical and mental/verbal abuse occurred most often in nursing homes, followed by sexual abuse, and staff were more often the perpetrators of the abuse deficiencies cited. GAO also found gaps in processes managed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The report shows that CMS – the agency responsible for ensuring nursing homes meet federal quality standards, including that residents are free from abuse – cannot readily access information on abuse or perpetrator type in its data and, therefore, lacks key information critical to taking appropriate actions. 

The senators will discuss the findings of the GAO study at today’s Senate Finance Committee hearing with Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and GAO officials.

“We should all be concerned that the number of abuses more than doubled in just four years from 2013 to 2017,” said Senator Portman.  “When we entrust our loved ones to long-term care, we expect them to be safe from harm.  It is highly concerning that the agency charged with overseeing the safety of this vulnerable population does not have access to the basic information it needs to carry out this mandate.  This report underscores the need to fully implement the recommendations outlined in the report.” 

The GAO report, which was requested by Senators Portman Carper, Grassley and Wyden can be found here

Portman Praises Senate Passage of the 9/11 Victims Fund Compensation Legislation

Portman praised Senate passage of the 9/11 Victims Fund Compensation legislation today. Portman, a cosponsor of the bill, released the following statement:

“Our brave first responders and their families deserve to know that we are there for them. After 9/11, volunteers serving on search and rescue teams like Ohio Task Force One rushed into danger to help respond to this tragedy. This legislation recognizes that they are heroes and we owe them a great debt of gratitude. This measure is just one small way to show our appreciation and I am pleased that it will soon be the law of the land.”

Portman, Brown & Senate Colleagues Introduce Legislation Posthumously Promoting Ohio-Native and Doolittle Raider, Lt. Col. Dick Cole to Col.

Senators Rob Portman, Brown, Cornyn, Cotton, and Cruz introduced legislation that calls for the posthumous promotion of Dayton, Ohio native Lieutenant Colonel (Lt. Col.) Richard E. Cole. This bipartisan legislation also recognizes the accomplishments, sacrifices, and legacy of Lt. Col. Cole, the last of the living Doolittle Raiders until he passed away earlier this year at the age 103. The Doolittle Raiders consisted of 80 U.S. Military volunteers, commanded by Lt. Col. James Doolittle, who led the first strike on mainland Japan in World War II, bolstering morale back home and changing the tide of the war in the Pacific. Lt. Col. Cole served valiantly as Lt. Col. James Doolittle’s co-pilot and together they led the Squadron of 16 Army Air Force bombers from the U.S.S. Hornet to Tokyo. 

“Dick Cole was a son of Dayton, Ohio and an American hero,” said Portman. “During a dark time in our history, he and the Doolittle Raiders launched an audacious attack that succeeded against all odds and provided a spark to the morale of the American people that carried us through to eventual victory in the Pacific.  The Doolittle Raid had a strategic effect on World War II, and flying in the lead plane as the co-pilot to Jimmy Doolittle, Dick Cole was a key factor to the mission’s success.  Dick went on to live a rich and full life and was a beloved hero to all airmen. I am proud to help lead this effort to provide Dick with the recognition he so deeply deserves.” 

Wednesday July 24, 2019

Portman Applauds Committee Passage of Bipartisan Bill to Assess & Address Rising Threat of Deepfakes

Portman, the co-founder and co-chair of the Senate Artificial Intelligence Caucus, announced that the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) approved the Deepfake Report Act by a bipartisan voice vote.

The bipartisan legislation will direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to conduct an annual study of deepfakes and other types of similar content. Deepfakes are hyper-realistic, digital manipulations of real content that depict events that did not actually occur. The measure requires DHS to assess the technology used to generate deepfakes, the uses of deepfakes by foreign and domestic entities, and available countermeasures to deepfakes in order to understand the role they can play in undermining U.S. national security, our elections, and other American priorities. The legislation will now go to the Senate floor for a vote.  

“As AI rapidly becomes an intrinsic part of our economy and society, AI-based threats, such as deepfakes have become an increasing threat to our democracy,” said Portman. “Addressing the challenges posed by deepfakes will require policymakers to grapple with important questions related to civil liberties and privacy. This bill prepares our country to answer those questions and address concerns by ensuring we have a sound understanding of this issue. As concerns with deepfakes grow by the day, I applaud my colleagues for approving this bipartisan legislation out of committee, and I hope the Senate will consider and pass it soon.”

Homeland Security Committee Approves Portman Bill to Improve Federal Permitting Process, Create Jobs

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today approved Portman’s Federal Permitting Reform and Jobs Act by voice vote.  The bill will build on efforts started in 2015 to improve the federal permitting process for some of the nation’s largest infrastructure projects.

Portman’s released statement can be found here.

Portman, Brown Reintroduce Bipartisan Legislation to Combat Addiction-Driven Human Trafficking

Senators Portman and Brown reintroduced their bipartisan legislation to crack down on addiction-driven human trafficking. The Protecting Rights of Those Exploited by Coercive Trafficking (PROTECT) Act specifically addresses the use of drugs to facilitate human trafficking and protects vulnerable victims of trafficking. Human traffickers often introduce or exploit drug addiction to control or force victims into prostitution or forced labor. This compounds the trauma experienced by human trafficking victims and undermines recovery efforts for individuals suffering from addiction.

More information on the PROTECT Act can be found here.

Portman Introduces Brent McIntosh & Brian Callanan at Nomination Hearing to Serve at the Treasury Department

Portman introduced Brent McIntosh and Brian Callanan at their Senate Finance Committee nomination hearing to serve in senior roles at the Treasury Department. Portman worked with Brent McIntosh during the George W. Bush administration. McIntosh has been nominated to be Undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs.

Brian Callanan previously worked as Staff Director and General Counsel of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which Portman chairs. The President has nominated Callanan to be the General Counsel at the Treasury Department.

Video of the event can be found here.

At Hearing, Portman Questions Treasury Nominees about France’s Digital Services Tax on U.S. Companies

At a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday July 24, Portman questioned Brent McIntosh, nominee to be Undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs, and Brian Callanan, nominee to be the General Counsel at the Treasury Department, about France’s proposed digital services tax targeting U.S. companies. 

Portman recently applauded the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) decision to open a Section 301 investigation into the new French digital services tax proposal.

Video of the hearing can be found here.

Thursday July 25, 2019

Portman Outlines Support for Bipartisan Legislation to Crack Down on High Prescription Drug Prices at Committee Markup

Portman delivered remarks in support of the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act during the Senate Finance Committee’s markup of the bill. It is designed to help crack down on high prescription drug prices.  In particular, Portman highlighted his support for the bill’s provisions to lower out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors, end the practice of spread pricing in Medicaid, and his bipartisan REFUND Act.  This measure will reduce the egregious wasted spending on discarded medications that are the result of excessively large, single-use drug vials and enable Medicare to recoup money from drug companies who were paid for wasted medications, and provide savings to seniors enrolled in Medicare. 

Video of his opening remarks can be found here.

Portman Backs Bipartisan Bill to Crack Down on High Prescription Drug Prices

Portman joined members of both parties on the Senate Finance Committee in approving the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act, bipartisan legislation to crack down on high prescription drug prices. During the committee’s markup, Portman delivered opening remarks outlining his support for the bill. 

Transcript and video of his remarks can be viewed here.

On Senate Floor, Portman Highlights Progress on Reducing U.S. Drug Overdoses, Challenges in Addressing Fentanyl & Meth Threats

This Thursday, Portman delivered remarks on the Senate floor to provide an update on the ongoing crisis of drug addiction in the United States. Progress is being made in Ohio and nationwide in reducing overdose death rates due in part to some of his legislative priorities like his Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act (CARA), the 21st Century CURES Act, and the STOP Act, but overdose death rates for certain drugs like fentanyl, psychostimulants like methamphetamine, and cocaine have all continued to rise. Portman recently introduced the Combating Meth & Cocaine Act to give state and local government’s greater flexibility with federal grant money to address the resurgence of meth and cocaine affecting our communities.

Video of his remarks can be found here.

Friday July 26, 2019

On Ric Edelman Show, Portman Highlights Bipartisan Bill to Help Americans Save More for Retirement

In a recent podcast interview with Ric Edelman, host of “The Ric Edelman Show,” Portman discussed his new, bipartisan Retirement Security & Savings Act (S. 1431), which he co-authored with Senator Cardin. Portman pointed out key provisions in the bill that will expand retirement savings opportunities, particularly for older and lower-income employees, as well as those working for small businesses.

An excerpt from his interview can be found here.

Following Request from Portman & Carper, Independent Watchdog Highlights Lack of Transparency in Public Comment Process, Recommendations to Improve Public Engagement

Senators Portman and Carper, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, today released the findings of a new U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that reviewed online regulatory commenting systems, including Regulations.gov, the Federal Communications Commission’s Electronic Comment Filing System, and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s online comment site. Portman and Carper requested GAO to study the issue in January 2018. The request was prompted by evidence that these online comment systems are subject to misuse and abuse.  For example, in 2017, the Federal Communications Commission received nearly 24 million comments on one rulemaking, many of which were duplicative or appeared to be intended to overload the system.  In addition, a Wall Street Journal investigation found that thousands of posts on these online dockets are submitted under fraudulent identities, some of which appear to be stolen identities.

“I am grateful to GAO for its diligent work over the last year-and-a-half to review federal agency online commenting systems,” said Senator Portman.  “With the regulatory comment process increasingly moving online, we are finding that policies developed decades ago are not always suited to today’s environment.  The American people must be able to participate in an open and meaningful public comment process to help federal agencies devise smarter and better-informed regulations.  In order for the process to be effective, however, we must have sound policies in place to prevent online abuse and make sure that Americans’ participation is meaningful and useful to federal agencies.  I would encourage these federal agencies to implement the recommendations outlined in the report.”

Portman, Stabenow, Joyce, Kaptur Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Renew & Expand Funding for the Great Lakes

Portman, Co-Chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, Senator Stabenow, Co-Chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, Congressman Joyce, member of the House Great Lakes Task Force, and Congresswoman Kaptur, Co-Chair of the House Great Lakes Task Force, introduced bipartisan legislation this week to reauthorize and expand funding for the Great Lakes.  

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2019 will reauthorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which is set to expire at the end of FY 2021, for another five years. The bill increases the current authorization level from $300 million to $375 million in FY 2022 and increases funding by $25 million per year until it reaches $475 million in FY 2026.

“I’m pleased to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan bill. GLRI is a successful public-private partnership that has helped address the greatest threats to the Great Lakes, including harmful algal blooms, invasive species, pollution, and contamination. Despite the program’s success, there is more work to be done,” Senator Portman said. “Lake Erie supports fishing and tourism industries totaling nearly $13 billion and is a top tourist destination in Ohio. With 11 million people depending on Lake Erie for their drinking water and hundreds of thousands of Ohioans depending upon the Lake for jobs, we must continue to protect our Great Lakes for the economic and environmental well-being of our region.” 

SOCIAL MEDIA

Rob Portman says drug companies should be required to help those hurt by opioids

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said drug companies responsible for distributing billions of opioids to Americans, leading to an epidemic of addictions and overdose deaths, should be required to help those hurt by the drug.

On the Senate floor on Thursday, Portman delivered a lengthy speech in response to The Washington Post’s investigation that revealed drug companies were able to circulate 76 billion pain pills from 2006 to 2012.

“The more we find out about the sheer pain of the pills that these drug companies pumped into the United States, more than 76 billion overall during that period — 76 billion pills, that’s with a ‘b’ — the more it is clear that lawsuits like this are going to be necessary to get to the bottom of what happened and require these entities to help those affected by these pain pills.”

Portman’s home state is where the first civil trial against drug companies will take place in October, barring a settlement. Two Ohio counties hit hard by the opioid epidemic are asking drug companies for billions in restitution for their role in saturating the nation with addictive pain medications.

Referencing The Post’s reporting, including a database that shows how many pills were distributed in every county in America over a seven-year period, Portman said the companies’ shipments showed the intent was to “spread them, not just in Ohio, but in other places, causing immense harm, because people got addicted to these pills and turned to heroin, fentanyl, and many of these people are the people who not just have an addiction but end up having overdoses and many of them also dying.”

That’s especially true in Ohio, which has been ravaged by drug overdose deaths. In 2017, there were 5,111 deaths — only second per capita behind West Virginia.

The senator has been a leading voice in Congress on combating the epidemic, speaking close to 60 times about it on the floor and spearheading legislation in 2016 to open up more federal funding for states to use on treatment and recovery programs.

On the other side of the Capitol, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), called on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to conduct its own investigation of “opioid manufacturers.” Walden chaired the panel in the last Congress when it passed dozens of opioid-related bills that were packaged and became law.

“We now know 76 billion pain pills flooded the country as unsealed internal company documents show — with vivid detail — how the opioid distribution got out of control,” Walden said, referring to The Post’s reporting. “This work is too important; the truth must be exposed.”

(Rob Portman says drug companies should be required to help those hurt by opioids, The Washington Post, July 25)

Bill to prevent the use of drugs for human trafficking introduced in Senate

Legislation that would crack down on addiction-driven human trafficking was introduced this week in the U.S. Senate.

The Protecting Rights of Those Exploited by Coercive Trafficking (PROTECT) Act would seek to prevent the use of drugs to facilitate human trafficking. Human traffickers often exploit drug addiction to control or force victims into prostitution or forced labor. The PROTECT Act would combat this by amending existing human trafficking law to specify that the use of drugs to cause a person to engage in a commercial sex act or forced labor would be considered a form of coercion. It also includes a provision to protect trafficking victims from prosecution.

“We should do everything in our power to bring human traffickers to justice, particularly those who use drugs to control their victims,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), one of the bill’s sponsors, said. “I am proud to re-introduce this bipartisan legislation that will strengthen the penalties for these criminals and help ensure human traffickers are held accountable for their atrocious crimes.”

The bill was also sponsored by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), John Cornyn (R-TX), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Rob Portman (R-OH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

The bill has been endorsed the Fraternal Order of Police, National Narcotic Officers’ Associations’ Coalition (NNOAC), National Sheriffs’ Association, Federal Law Enforcement Officers’ Association, International Union of Police Associations, Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation, National District Attorneys Association, Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Truckers Against Trafficking, Shared Hope International, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CAT-W), Living In Freedom Together (LIFT), National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Child Welfare League of America, Love 146, My Life My Choice, Rights4Girls, and Human Service Chamber of Franklin County.

(Bill to prevent the use of drugs for human trafficking introduced in Senate, Homeland Preparedness News, July 24)