Rob’s Rundown: Week of July 29 – August 2, 2019
Today, Senator Portman attended the annual Ohio Agriculture Hall of Fame Breakfast and visited the Ohio State Fair in Columbus. This was his six straight year visiting the fair, and he was joined by members of the Ohio State Fair leadership and agriculture leaders from all over the state. Portman also participated in a roundtable in Columbus highlighting economic benefits of Opportunity Zones. The roundtable was hosted at Gravity, a new development in Franklinton that features apartments, offices, restaurants and event space. As part of the tax reform law, Portman fought for a new tax incentive called “Opportunity Zones” that is designed to encourage investment and job creation in low-income communities.
On the Senate floor earlier this week, Portman discussed the Restore Our Parks Act, bipartisan legislation he authored with Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Angus King (I-ME) that would help address more than half of the nearly $12 billion backlog of long-delayed maintenance projects at the National Park Service. The bill will do so by establishing the “National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund” to reduce the maintenance backlog by allocating half of the existing unobligated revenues the government receives from on and offshore energy development up to $1.3 billion per year for the next five years. Portman urged the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to consider the Restore Our Parks Act as soon as possible so that he can work with his colleagues to pass it through both the Senate and the House of Representatives and send it to the President for his signature.
Finally, Senator Portman issued this statement after voting for the bipartisan budget agreement, which is now ready to be signed into law by the president.
For a more detailed look at Senator Portman’s week, please see the following:
Tuesday July 30, 2019
Senate Passes Portman, Brown Resolution Marking 50 Years of Environmental Progress Since Cuyahoga River Fire, Senators Call for Continued Action
This week, the Senate passed the bipartisan resolution written by Senators Portman and Brown marking 50 years of environmental progress since the last time the Cuyahoga River caught on fire on June 22, 1969. The Senate resolution describes how the fire spurred important federal environmental action, including passage of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.
Portman and Brown’s resolution also highlights the economic transformation in Cleveland near the river as a result of environmental reforms, as the Senators call for continued action.
“By working together, we have made significant progress since the fire in improving and protecting our environment. This 50th anniversary, we should recognize how far we’ve come as well as the challenges that remain. I remain committed to protecting the Cuyahoga River and the Great Lakes while ensuring they can still be used for recreation and economic activity now and for future generations,” said Portman.
Portman Op-Ed in the Cincinnati Enquirer: “I’m Committed to Bipartisan Solution to Border Crisis”
The southern border of the United States continues to experience an unprecedented crisis of immigration. Each day, thousands of migrants and asylum seekers from Central America surrender to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents or attempt to cross the border illegally, and many bring children along on the long and arduous journey. This has made it difficult for CBP to fulfill its other missions, including stopping drugs like fentanyl, methamphetamine, and cocaine from entering into the United States from Mexico.
Senator Portman has been a vocal advocate both for increased security and the border and for a humanitarian solution to the large number of individuals and children who are detained as a result of illegally crossing the border. In July, he joined a congressional delegation to McAllen, Texas, to see firsthand the situation at one of CBP’s largest processing facilities.
In a Cincinnati Enquirer op-ed, Portman wrote: “After seeing the border firsthand, I’m more convinced than ever that we need to reform our laws in three ways. First, by fixing our broken asylum laws and working with the United Nations on a refugee alternative so individuals with a valid asylum claim don’t have to travel to our border. Second, by overturning the parts of court rulings that necessitate releasing people into the United States if a child accompanies them. Finally, by permitting the return of unaccompanied children to their families in their home countries, provided they’re returned to a safe place.”
The full op-ed can be found at this link.
Senate Committee Passes Portman, Brown Bill That Could Help Repair Nationally-Significant Bridges, Such as Brent Spence Bridge
The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee passed a highway package that includes Senators Portman and Brown’s Bridge Investment Act, which establishes a competitive grant program to assist the repair and replacement of deficient and outdated bridges and ease the national bridge repair backlog.
- Portman and Brown’s bill included language which set aside funding that could help rehabilitate and replace nationally significant large bridges like the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati. Portman and Brown’s bill also includes funding that could help repair regionally-important bridges like the Western Hills Viaduct.
- These large projects would be eligible to apply for multiyear grant agreements that provide grant money in installment payments, which allow more large-scale projects to receive funding.
“I’m glad that the Bridge Investment Act will be included in the highway bill because this bipartisan legislation will get us that much closer towards a safe and modern replacement for the Brent Spence Bridge,” said Senator Portman.
At Committee Hearing, Portman Highlights Need to Change Immigration Laws & Reduce Incentives for Migrants to Make Dangerous Journey to Southern Border
At a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, Portman discussed the ongoing humanitarian crisis at our southern border and stressed the importance of finding solutions that reduce incentives for migrants to make the dangerous journey to the southern border, often with traffickers and human smugglers. Portman recently visited the southern border where he saw the humanitarian crisis firsthand and described the visit in an op-ed in the Cincinnati Enquirer.
At Committee Hearing, Portman Highlights Urgent Need for Congress to Pass the US-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement
This week at a Senate Finance Committee hearing, Portman highlighted the economic benefits of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) Trade Agreement, which will help American workers, farmers and manufacturers. Portman supports the more modern USMCA to the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in part because it includes new and enforceable environmental and labor standards, a new section on digital trade, expanded opportunities for agricultural trade, and new opportunities for auto jobs in America.
Video of his remarks can be found here.
Wednesday, July 31, 2019
On Bloomberg, Portman Discusses His Support for USMCA: “Putting It Off Until Next Year Makes No Sense”
In an interview with Bloomberg’s Daybreak Americas, Portman highlighted the importance of passing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement this year in order to strengthen our economy and support Ohio’s farmers and manufacturers. He also discussed the ongoing U.S.-China trade discussions and the need to hold the country accountable for violating international trade laws.
Video of the interview can be found here.
Portman, Isakson, Scott Urge USTR to Tailor China Tariffs to Help American Manufacturing
This week Senators Portman, Isakson, and Scott sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer urging him to remove proposed tariffs on 96 products because of the harmful impact it will have on U.S. importers, manufacturing, and the economy. These same tariffs were removed from the list during the last supplemental trade action proposed by the administration.
“Last year during the deliberations over whether to impose $200 billion in addition tariffs on China (List 3), you removed from the list certain tariffs on 96 products because of those tariff’s harmful economic impact on these importers and our economy,” the Senators wrote. “Yet during the consideration of the proposed supplemental $300 billion trade action (List 4), these products were again included on the list of proposed tariffs. We ask that you consider removing from the proposed supplemental trade action any good that was previously removed from the supplemental $200 billion trade action (List 3) before that action went into effect.”
The full text of the letter is available here.
Thursday August 1, 2019
Portman, Cardin Move to Protect Retirement Security for American Workers
Senators Portman and Cardin, both members of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced the Retirement Security Preservation Act of 2019 (RSPA) — common-sense legislation to protect the retirement security of American workers in closed defined benefit plans. The bill amends and modernizes the pension nondiscrimination rules that apply to these single-employer pension plans to protect over 450,000 older, longer-serving workers from having their benefits frozen by the end of the year through no fault of their own. The bill builds on previous legislation and regulatory work to address this issue, and is included in the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019 (the SECURE Act), which passed the House by a 417-3 vote earlier this year. The Senate has not yet acted on this bill. RSPA was also approved unanimously by the Senate Finance Committee as part of a retirement-related legislative package in September 2016.
“This measure will help safeguard the retirement security of hundreds of thousands of working families who deserve the ability to accrue benefits under their pension plan as they were promised,” Senator Portman said. “Senator Cardin and I are pleased that the legislation is included in the SECURE Act, but we are introducing it as a stand-alone bill as well to send a message about its urgency. Older workers in these affected closed defined plans deserve relief before it’s too late.”
Bipartisan Portman, Carper Bill to Modernize Constituent Services Passes Senate, Heads to President’s Desk
This week, the U.S. Senate passed the bipartisan Creating Advanced Streamlined Electronic Services for Constituents (CASES) Act of 2019. The legislation, introduced by Senators Portman and Carper, will update and streamline the casework privacy release form process used by congressional offices to assist constituents in contacting federal agencies. The CASES Act gives constituents the option to electronically authorize congressional offices to engage with federal agencies on their behalf by modernizing an outdated provision of the Privacy Act of 1974. Under current law, Members of Congress must obtain written authorization from a constituent before taking action to resolve the individual’s case. This bill will help to modernize an outdated and often inconvenient process that can create unnecessary delays in issue resolution. The bill now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.
Earlier this year, the companion bill in the House of Representatives, introduced by Representatives Graves and Kennedy III passed the House by a margin of 379-0.
“Each year, thousands of Ohioans contact my office for help resolving issues with federal agencies,” said Senator Portman. “The CASES Act will make it easier for them and all Americans to interact with their government when they need help, and it will help members of Congress better serve their constituents. I applaud the Senate for approving this common-sense bill and I look forward to seeing it signed into law.”
Portman Backs Bipartisan Budget Agreement
Portman issued the following statement after voting for the bipartisan budget agreement, which is now ready to be signed into law by the president:
“It was important that the budget agreement that President Trump and Congressional Republicans and Democrats negotiated passed today because the alternative – a government shutdown or a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) – was far worse. Among other things, a shutdown or short-term CR would result in substantial cuts to our national defense, and significantly weaken our military readiness at a time when we are finally making progress to restore it and at a time when we face many national security challenges. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark A. Milley, testified recently that a short-term CR or a government shutdown would have a damaging impact in terms of training, equipping, procurement, modernization, spare parts, maintenance, and pay and benefits for our military.
“This would have a direct effect on Ohio’s military communities as well. It would have hurt critical operational sites in Ohio like Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, Camp James A. Garfield and the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Northeast Ohio, Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base in Columbus, the 180th Fighter Wing in Toledo, the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Squadron at Springfield Air Guard base, and Mansfield Lahm Air National Guard Base. This agreement ensures these Ohio bases and our military will receive the funding they need to improve our readiness and support our brave men and women in uniform.
“While I’m disappointed that this agreement does not include more meaningful budget cuts, the type of spending involved – discretionary spending – is only 30 percent of the budget and actually decreases slightly as a percent of the economy under the bill. I will continue to pursue bipartisan reforms to the 70 percent of the budget that is on autopilot – in particular the mandatory spending that is growing at well above economic growth and is the primary driver of future debt and deficits.”
On Senate Floor, Portman Urges Colleagues to Pass Bipartisan Restore Our Parks Act
On the Senate floor this week, Portman discussed the Restore Our Parks Act, bipartisan legislation he authored with Senators Warner, Alexander and King that would help address more than half of the nearly $12 billion backlog of long-delayed maintenance projects at the National Park Service. The bill will do so by establishing the “National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund” to reduce the maintenance backlog by allocating half of the existing unobligated revenues the government receives from on and offshore energy development up to $1.3 billion per year for the next five years. Portman urged the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to consider the Restore Our Parks Act as soon as possible so that he can work with his colleagues to pass it through both the Senate and the House of Representatives and send it to the President for his signature.
Video of his remarks can be found here.
Friday August 2, 2019
Portman, Brown Introduce Extension of Health Coverage Tax Credit
Senators Portman and Brown introduced legislation that will extend for five years the Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC) for retirees who lost their health care coverage — in addition to their pensions and other benefits — when their employers either entered into bankruptcy or laid off workers due to foreign trade. The HCTC is critically important for many hardworking Ohioans, including as many as 5,000 Delphi salaried retirees in Dayton, the Mahoning Valley, and Sandusky. In addition, a few hundred workers from the Lordstown General Motors plant have applied for Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) and would benefit from the HCTC as well.
“Thousands of retirees in Ohio and their families depend on the Health Coverage Tax Credit, and I’m pleased to introduce this bipartisan legislation to ensure that this credit will again be available for them,” Portman said. “Since I came to the Senate, I’ve fought for multiple extensions of the HCTC, including my bill that was included in the Trade Preferences Extension Act of 2015 the last time the credit was extended. These hardworking Ohioans rely on the HCTC for affordable health insurance after their pensions were terminated or after they were adversely affected by foreign trade, and I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this legislation to ensure the stability of health coverage for these individuals and their families.”
Portman, Warner Reintroduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Streamline ACA Employer Reporting Requirements
Senators Portman and Warner reintroduced bipartisan legislation to improve burdensome employer reporting requirements under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Commonsense Reporting Act of 2019 would streamline and modernize ACA reporting requirements, ensuring that the Treasury Department has the necessary data to determine availability of affordable coverage, while cutting down on unnecessary paperwork and administrative costs for businesses. Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Reps. Thompson and Smith.
“I have heard from hundreds of employers in Ohio that have spent hundreds of administrative hours attempting to comply with the reporting requirements in the Affordable Care Act. This added time and resources has not improved the quality of health insurance employers offered but only further discouraged employers from offering health insurance and hiring more workers. This bipartisan bill will help streamline the reporting process by allowing employers to report information to the IRS prospectively, easing the burden for employers and employees,” said Sen. Portman.
In Columbus, Portman Participates in Roundtable Highlighting Economic Benefits of Opportunity Zones
Portman participated in a roundtable highlighting economic benefits of Opportunity Zones hosted at Gravity, a new development in Franklinton that features apartments, offices, restaurants and event space. In addition, members of the Ohio Business Roundtable, the Columbus Chamber, the Columbus Partnership, Columbus 2020, the City of Columbus, and other local entrepreneurial leaders participated in the discussion. As part of the tax reform law, Portman fought for a new tax incentive called “Opportunity Zones” that is designed to encourage investment and job creation in low-income communities.
Ohio designated 320 low-income census tracts across the state as Opportunity Zones under the new tax law. This allows investors and companies to defer paying capital gains taxes on investments in exchange for committing to invest that additional money into Opportunity Zones long-term, with additional tax benefits available depending on the length of the Opportunity Zone investment. Franklin County is poised to benefit from Opportunity Zone designations.
“I enjoyed today’s discussion on the benefits of Opportunity Zones and how they can help spur economic development and job creation in low-income communities in the Columbus area,” said Portman. “The middle-class tax cut and tax reform have led to more jobs, higher wages, bonuses, new equipment, and increased investment in workers’ benefits. Opportunity Zones have the potential to boost investments and jobs in struggling communities throughout Ohio. This is exactly what Congress intended to accomplish when we crafted this new law. I appreciated the feedback I received today, and I will continue working to improve the economy and help working families and small businesses succeed and flourish.”
Portman: I'm committed to bipartisan solution to border crisis
It should be clear to all Americans by now that there is a very real crisis occurring at our southern border. It’s an immigration crisis, with over 100,000 border crossings per month and unprecedented numbers of families with children.
It’s a drug crisis, too. With 40% to 60% of border patrol agents being moved from their stations on the border to process migrants and otherwise address humanitarian needs, cartels have had an easier time than ever bringing drugs across our border. This includes crystal meth, fentanyl, and other drugs that are devastating communities all across Ohio.
And it’s a humanitarian crisis. Asylum seekers and migrants often face violence, sickness, and tough terrain on their dangerous journey, and many are abused by human smugglers. The last time the system was overwhelmed like this in 2014, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stopped doing background checks on sponsors for unaccompanied children. They wound up placing Guatemalan children with human traffickers, who put the kids into forced labor on an egg farm in Marion, Ohio, where the children were forced to live and work in squalid conditions.
When the system gets overwhelmed, people suffer. The unprecedented influx of families and children has overwhelmed the border patrol processing centers, detention facilities, health care providers and non-profits like Catholic Charities that have stepped in to help.
Earlier this month, I traveled to McAllen, Texas, so that I could see firsthand what is happening in the border. I toured facilities, spoke to migrants and met with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and leadership from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on the ground.
I saw hundreds of individuals held at the Donna processing facility, and I was able to speak to both families and unaccompanied children. The five or six families I spoke to were all from the so-called Northern Triangle countries – El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. I’m sure other families had requested asylum out of fear for gang violence or other forms of persecution, but each parent I stopped to talk to said poverty had driven the family north, where they were seeking a better life for their families. That’s certainly understandable.
However, there’s a long list of people from the Northern Triangle and other developing countries waiting patiently to come here through the proper, legal channels, under which America annually admits hundreds of thousands of immigrants.
I also saw hundreds of single men and women held at the McAllen Border Patrol Station. These buildings aren’t supposed to hold individuals for more than a few days, but many had been there for more than a month because Democrats in Congress have withheld funding for more Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention beds, causing an overflow at existing detention facilities.
Finally, I saw that the men and women of CBP are doing their best in a very tough situation. I recently strongly supported an additional $4.6 billion in humanitarian funding to ensure CBP has the resources to handle the influx of people humanely, but we need a long-term, legislative fix to avoid crises like this in the future.
Two issues help explain this surge – the way we handle asylum claims and children. First, under a federal court case called the Flores settlement, children can’t be held in a CBP facility for more than 20 days. Because it takes longer than this to process families with children, many are released into the United States pending a court hearing, which, because of a backlog of about one million cases, takes more than two years. In the end, only 15% of migrants requesting asylum prove they have a credible fear of persecution and are granted asylum. In the meantime, migrants continue to present themselves to the Border Patrol and request asylum because they know that if they do so, they’ll be released into the country. Once in, they can acquire work permits and can wait years to be called for a hearing. And once they’re called, it’s estimated that fewer than half of these individuals show up to court.
After seeing the border firsthand, I’m more convinced than ever that we need to reform our laws in three ways. First, by fixing our broken asylum laws and working with the United Nations on a refugee alternative so individuals with a valid asylum claim don’t have to travel to our border. Second, by overturning the parts of court rulings that necessitate releasing people into the United States if a child accompanies them. Finally, by permitting the return of unaccompanied children to their families in their home countries, provided they’re returned to a safe place.
These measures, combined with more assistance from Mexico and effective aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, will help get our immigration system working again. I’m committed to working with Democrats and Republicans on bipartisan solutions to alleviate this very real crisis at the border.
(Portman: I'm committed to bipartisan solution to border crisis. Cincinnati Enquirer. July 30)
Breaking the traffickers' grip
Human traffickers refer to drugs as “the leash.” Once their victims are addicted, they’re much easier to control and to exploit for the trafficker’s financial gain.
Now, a bipartisan U.S. Senate coalition, including Ohio’s Sen. Sherrod Brown and Sen. Rob Portman, wants to help prosecutors get convictions in trafficking cases by addressing the use of drugs to coerce trafficking victims into commercial sex acts or other forced labor.
The Protecting Rights of Those Exploited by Coercive Trafficking, or PROTECT, Act would specifically define the use of drugs on a victim as coercion.
In many cases, traffickers either get a victim hooked on drugs or exploit an existing addiction to keep victims compliant and dependent.
While court rulings already have established that the use of drugs is coercive, the bill is aimed at further strengthening prosecutors’ ability to get convictions in such cases.
Senator Portman said the language is essential to help prosecutors prove that trafficking victims were indeed forced into sex acts or other work against their will, rather than committing those acts of their own free will.
The bill also would shield those victims from prosecution for crimes, such as drug possession, they may have committed while being trafficked.
“Addiction has become another weapon for traffickers,” Senator Brown said in a recent conference call with reporters.
Marlene Carson, chief executive officer and founder of the Switch, a Columbus agency that helps human-trafficking survivors, said trafficking victims are often controlled through their addictions.
“There are so many women with no quality of life because a trafficker hooked them on drugs.”
The bill was introduced last year, but it died without getting a vote.
Ohio has the fourth-highest number of human-trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. And the state has long been a leader in efforts to prevent and thwart human trafficking — from the work of Celia Wiliamson at the University of Toledo’s Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute to Mr. Portman’s contributions to the Senate’s efforts to shut down the online marketplace of sex trafficking, Backpage.com.
But combating human trafficking is not just a regional issue, and it certainly isn’t a partisan issue. If lawmakers can help prosecutors break the leash that lets human traffickers control their vulnerable victims, those efforts must not be stalled. The Senate’s leadership should not let the PROTECT Act linger another year but swiftly move it forward for a vote.
(Breaking the traffickers' grip. Toledo Blade. August 2)