Rob’s Rundown: Week of November 30 - December 3, 2021

December 3, 2021 | Rob's Rundown

Senator Portman was back in Washington this week where he delivered remarks on the Senate floor Monday evening in which he discussed the record number of overdose deaths that have devastated families and communities across America. Portman, who has long been a leader in Congress in combating the addiction epidemic, leading passage of landmark legislation like the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) called for added security at the border, closer cooperation with the international community, and better enforcement of his bipartisan STOP Act law to help disrupt the supply of lethal substances, and for the passage of his bipartisan CARA 3.0 legislation to reduce demand by doubling down on proven treatment and recovery options, while also funding greater investments in research, education, prevention, and criminal justice support to help turn the tide of addiction. 

Portman delivered remarks at a press conference Wednesday afternoon outlining his concerns with the SALT tax provision in Democrats’ massive tax and spending proposal. Portman pointed out that the real cost of the Democrats’ proposal will be more than $4 trillion because many of the programs are unlikely to sunset, two-thirds of millionaires will receives a tax cut under the proposal and the SALT cap increase will cost as much as $100 billion more than the Child Tax Credit, which Democrats claim is the cornerstone of their entire spending bill. 

On Thursday, Portman spoke on the Senate floor outlining the harmful consequences of the so-called book tax in the Democrats’ reckless tax and spending proposal. In the speech, Portman discussed his concerns with the new tax hike, including the fact that it will amount to a new corporate alternative tax that taxes pensions and is not based on income, but rather book value. Portman talked about how the tax would add to inflation that is already surging and how workers will be hurt the most. Portman also noted that Democrats passing another stimulus bill would represent a doubling down of the policies that created this current state of inflation by raising taxes and stimulating consumer demand. He also said that the actual cost of this legislation could be more than $4 trillion, rather than the $1.75 trillion figure Democrats cite.

Finally, on Tuesday, Portman delivered opening remarks at a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee roundtable titled “FedRAMP Reform: Recommendations to Reduce Burden, Enhance Security, and Address Inefficiencies in the Government Cloud Authorization Process” and highlighted the need for reforms to address the current security issues, inefficiencies, and burdens in the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP). FedRAMP is a government-wide program that provides a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services. It currently faces several weaknesses that leave the cloud based program vulnerable to foreign-based hackers from countries like China and Russia. The experts at the roundtable agreed with Portman on the need for reforms to the legislation under consideration to codify the program to address the weaknesses and establish safeguards to identify and prevent foreign interference

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

Monday, November 15, 2021

Portman, Hagerty, King File Bipartisan Amendment to NDAA to Improve Permitting Process for Key Technologies Impacting National Security

Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Bill Hagerty (R-TN), and Angus King (I-ME) filed an amendment to the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act(NDAA) that would add key technologies impacting national security to the sectors that can utilize the FAST-41 improved federal permitting program, which will encourage development of these technologies in the United States.   

America is losing opportunities to domestically develop national-security-critical industries—from semiconductors to electric vehicle batteries and renewable energy—because of permitting process uncertainty and conflicts. This will limit America in the technological competition with China and other nations that will define the next century.  

In 2015, Senator Portman and then-Senator Claire McCaskill co-authored the Federal Permitting Improvement Act, which Congress ultimately enacted into law as Title 41 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. That law, now known as FAST-41, significantly reformed the federal infrastructure permitting process while leaving environmental protections in place. Most significantly, it created the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (Permitting Council), which brings together agencies at the start of the permitting process for some of the largest, most complicated infrastructure projects (covered projects) to write out a comprehensive plan for the permitting process across agencies. The public can track the permitting progress for each of those projects at www.permits.performance.gov. The FAST-41 permitting program was made permanent and improved upon in the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act

The Portman-Hagerty-King bipartisan amendment would build upon the successful FAST-41 permitting program, which promotes increased coordination between permitting agencies without compromising health, safety, or environmental protection, by adding “semiconductors, artificial intelligence and machine learning, high performance computing and advanced computer hardware and software, quantum information science and technology, data storage, data management, and cybersecurity” as eligible sectors, so that these projects can benefit from the same program. 

“Expanding the FAST-41 permitting process improvements to more projects—especially those affecting national security—is common sense,” said Senator Portman. “Over the past six years, the FAST-41 process has substantially reduced the permitting process timeline for covered projects by increasing agency communication and accountability. This amendment will leverage that process to make America more competitive and secure.”

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

On Senate Floor, Portman Calls on Washington to Respond to Surging Addiction Epidemic

On the Senate floor, Senator Portman discussed the record number of overdose deaths that have devastated families and communities across America. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control, April 2020 to April 2021 saw the most drug overdose deaths in a 12-month period in our nation’s history, with more than 100,000 individuals losing their lives during that span. Portman, who has long been a leader in Congress in combating the addiction epidemic, leading passage of landmark legislation like the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA)highlighted the supply and demand factors that have contributed to this spike, which comes only a few years after annual nationwide drug overdose deaths declined for the first time since 1990, as well as solutions to help stem this tide. 

As Portman noted, the United States has been devastated by an ever-growing supply of lethal synthetic opioids, particularly fentanyl, that have become the leading cause of overdose deaths in the country. He noted that the failure of this administration to control our southern border has resulted in record levels of deadly fentanyl coming into our country, leading to more American lives lost and families devastated, which has contributed to the growing strength of Mexican transnational criminal organizations. Portman repeatedly urged the administration to change course and put in place smart policies that secure our borders and protect the American people from the influx of deadly narcotics like fentanyl. 

In March, Portman visited the southern border in El Paso, Texas, where he witnessed firsthand the ongoing crisis and spoke to Border Patrol agents about how smugglers were using vulnerable individuals, particularly families and unaccompanied children who require significant processing time, as a way to distract agents to allow them to then move large quantities of illicit narcotics into the United States. Portman highlighted his Border Response Resilience Act that he introduced in May with Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ) to establish a $1 billion irregular migration border response fund so that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is not forced to transfer resources away from border security priorities to fund food, clothing, blankets, and transportation for unaccompanied children and family members. 

Earlier this month, Portman released a statement on the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) operational statistics, which show a 42 percent increase in fentanyl seizures at the southern border from September to October. This surge in fentanyl has coincided with the hardships of COVID-19. The pandemic has left many isolated and depressed, leading to increased rates of drug use, while also denying some individuals in recovery critical access to care, which has led to more relapses.  

Portman laid out a comprehensive strategy for the federal government to help address both factors driving this heartbreaking surge. He called for added security at the border, closer cooperation with the international community, and better enforcement of his bipartisanSTOP Act law to help disrupt the supply of lethal substances, and for the passage of his bipartisan CARA 3.0 legislation to reduce demand by doubling down on proven treatment and recovery options, while also funding greater investments in research, education, prevention, and criminal justice support to help turn the tide of addiction. 

A transcript of the speech can be found here and a video can be found here.

At Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, Portman Discusses Kidnappings in Haiti, Ongoing Drug Crisis in United States

During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Portman spoke with Brian Nichols, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, on his involvement in the ongoing attempt to recover 17 U.S. missionaries with Christian Aid Ministries, an Ohio-based group who were kidnapped in Haiti six weeks ago. Two missionaries were recently released but 15, including small children, are still being held captive. 

The two also discussed the ongoing addiction and overdose crisis in this country, and how the massive increase in fentanyl shipments across our southern border is a significant contributing factor. Senator Portman recently took part in a congressional delegation visit to South and Central America, where he learned more about how transnational criminal organizations, particularly in Mexico, have been transporting illegal narcotics into the U.S. at extraordinary rates. On the Senate floor last evening, Portman spoke about the record number of overdose deaths that have devastated families and communities across America. He also highlighted the supply and demand factors that have contributed to this spike, as well as solutions to help stem this tide.

A transcript of Senator Portman’s questioning can be found here and video can be found here.

Portman Highlights Need for FedRAMP Reforms to Address Security Issues, Inefficiencies, and Burdens Before Codifying Federal Government Cloud Authorization Process

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, delivered opening remarks at a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee roundtable titled “FedRAMP Reform: Recommendations to Reduce Burden, Enhance Security, and Address Inefficiencies in the Government Cloud Authorization Process” and highlighted the need to address the current security issues, inefficiencies, and burdens in the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP). FedRAMP is a government-wide program that provides a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services. It currently faces several weaknesses that leave the cloud based program vulnerable to foreign-based hackers from countries like China and Russia. Portman outlined the importance of addressing those weaknesses and establishing safeguards to identify and prevent foreign interference before introducing legislation that will codify the current program.

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

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Portman, Peters, Padilla Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Transparency of Federal Disaster Relief Spending

Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member and Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Alex Padilla (D-CA) introduced the Disclosing All Spending That Ensures Relief Act (DISASTER Act), bipartisan legislation that will direct federal agencies to track all spending and financial damages related to disasters and emergencies – including pandemics, wildfires, and extreme flooding. This information would be reported to Congress and posted online to help make information about how much the federal government is spending on disaster response and recovery more accessible to the public.  

“The DISASTER Act will help inform the public and Congress about how much we spend on disasters annually and across the government,” said Senator Portman. While agencies are required to report online how much each spends, there is no requirement to identify and track how much funding goes to federal disaster response. Congress cannot manage what it does not measure. As the number and severity of disasters increases, effective management of our response necessitates transparency and accountability of government disaster spending. The DISASTER Act will bring greater transparency and better management of the growing cost of federal disaster response.”

At HSGAC Roundtable, Experts Agree With Portman on Need for FedRAMP Reforms

At a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee roundtable titled “FedRAMP Reform: Recommendations to Reduce Burden, Enhance Security, and Address Inefficiencies in the Government Cloud Authorization Process,” experts agreed with U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, on the need to address the current security issues, inefficiencies, and burdens in the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP). FedRAMP currently faces several weaknesses that leave the cloud based program vulnerable to foreign-based hackers from countries like China and Russia. The experts at the roundtable agreed with Portman on the importance of addressing those weaknesses and establishing safeguards to identify and prevent foreign interference through reforms to the legislation under consideration that will codify the current program. Portman also addressed the potential conflict of interest by companies hiring and paying Third Party Assessment Organizations (3PAOs) to assess their cloud systems against FedRAMP compliance regulations. 

A transcript of his questioning can be found here and videos can be found here and here

At Press Conference, Portman Sheds Light on Democrats’ Massive Tax Break for Wealthy

Senator Portman delivered remarks at a press conference outlining his concerns with the SALT tax provision in Democrats’ massive tax and spending proposal. During his remarks, he pointed out that the real cost of the Democrats’ proposal will be more than $4 trillion because many of the programs are unlikely to sunset, two-thirds of millionaires will receives a tax cut under the proposal and the SALT cap increase will cost as much as $100 billion more than the Child Tax Credit, which Democrats claim is the cornerstone of their entire spending bill. 

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

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Finance Committee Republican Continues to Press IRS on ProPublica Leak

Nearly six months after ProPublica began disclosing confidential, private and legally-protected taxpayer information, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Biden administration continue to show little regard about the haphazard handling of private taxpayer data. ProPublica unabatedly continues to publish articles naming individual taxpayers while the IRS, the Department of the Treasury, the FBI, and the Department of Justice have all failed to identify the source or sources of the leaked information. U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) joined his Republican colleagues on the Senate Finance Committee in sending a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig,continuing to conduct oversight and pressing the agency on its weak responses to the massive apparent leaks.  

The letter notes known deficiencies in IRS systems and highlights data and privacy security vulnerabilities involved in contractor relationships. The Members also request further, detailed information about the IRS’s efforts to determine a source of the leaks, and what the IRS has done to resolve open recommendations for curing deficiencies. 

“[…]ProPublica continues to publish what appears to be confidential taxpayer information that is protected by law, and as Commissioner, you have been a proponent of the IRS being allowed access to even more information from taxpayers and a significant and mandatory enforcement budget. The fact that the source of the information ProPublica continues to publish remains unknown means that the ability of the IRS to safeguard information already entrusted to it also remains unknown. It is possible that ProPublica obtained whatever information it has at one time from a specific source. However, if the ProPublica information was leaked or hacked from the IRS, and the IRS is unable to even determine if a leak or hack took place, this could indicate an ongoing and persistent problem with IRS information technology (IT) systems and the ability of the IRS to safeguard taxpayer information,” wrote the senators.

“As we enter month six with no information about how ProPublica obtained protected taxpayer information, the risks we highlighted in this letter are of growing concern,” the senators continued.  “It is our constitutional obligation to ensure that IRS enforcement remains effective, and that requires the IRS to properly secure taxpayer information.” 

The full letter is available here.

Portman Presses Nominees to DC Courts on Need to Address Case Backlog to Deter Rising Crime in Nation’s Capital

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, pressed Loren AliKhan and John P. Howard III, nominees to be Associate Judges for the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, and Adrienne Jennings Noti, a nominee to be an Associate Judge for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, on how they planned to address the rise in crime in DC should they be confirmed. Portman highlighted the need to address the case backlog within the District of Columbia court systems to ensure that justice is done and that criminals are prosecuted properly in an effort to deter rising crime. 

Excerpts from his questioning can be found below and a video can be found here.

On Senate Floor, Portman Discusses Concerns with Unvetted Book Tax Proposal in Democrats’ Massive Spending Bill

Portman delivered remarks on the Senate floor outlining the harmful consequences of the so-called book tax in the Democrats’ reckless tax and spending proposal. In the speech, Portman discussed his concerns with the new tax hike, including the fact that it will amount to a new corporate alternative tax that taxes pension and is not based on income, but rather book value. Portman talked about how the tax would add to inflation that is already surging and how workers will be hurt the most. 

Portman also noted that Democrats passing another stimulus bill would represent a doubling down of the policies that created this current state of inflation by raising taxes and stimulating consumer demand. He also said that the actual cost of this legislation could be more than $4 trillion, rather than the $1.75 trillion figure Democrats cite. 

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

SOCIAL MEDIA

 

 

 

 

After Israel trip, Portman seeks more defense support

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, said the United States needs to do more to protect Israel, citing what he learned from his Nov. 8 through Nov. 10 visit to the country.

Portman told attendees of the Ohio Jewish Communities-sponsored virtual discussion Nov. 30 that the threats the country faces on a daily basis require additional U.S. support. Specifically, he called on fellow lawmakers to provide more funding for Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ anti-missile defense system, to codify the terms of the Abraham Accords into law and increase sanctions against Iran and countries who do business with Iran as a deterrent to it developing nuclear capabilities. 

“You realize just how small the country is and how susceptible it is, how vulnerable it is, and why it is so important for us to continue to provide help that we do and other countries do,” Portman said. Portman traveled to Israel with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo. The congressional delegation visited with Israeli government officials, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, met with Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, and visited the Lebanon border, along with other activities.

Portman said he and the rest of the delegation made it clear while meeting with Shtayyeh that American aid to the Palestinians would be contingent on the Palestinian Authority ending the so-called “pay to slay” policy. Under this policy, the Palestinian Authority provides monthly payments to terrorists in prison and the families of terrorists killed while carrying out acts of terrorism against Israel. 

He also said during his trip he saw the kinds of threats Israel faces on all sides as it must defend five different borders from the likes of Iran-backed Hezbollah, Syria, Lebanon and Palestinians in the Gaza strip. Portman said the daily threat Israel faces can be seen in the thousands of missiles launched against the country each year and more than 100,000 missiles currently aimed at Israel. 

While there is bipartisan support for U.S. funding for the Iron Dome, Portman acknowledged some lawmakers, including Sen. Rand Paul R-Ky., stand in the way of any legislation supporting it passing by unanimous consent. Despite this, Portman said he was not deterred and another legislative vehicle would be found that would not require unanimous consent. Portman and other advocates for the Iron Dome are currently considering a number of options including the National Defense Authorization Act, which only requires 60 votes to pass, he said. “We have to keep a qualitative edge” in defending Israel, Portman said of the Iron Dome. “And keeping the qualitative edge keeps the peace.”

Portman also noted the success of the Abraham Accords in building trade relationships with Arab countries in the Middle East, such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, and urged Congress to codify and strengthen this approach to the Middle East. Portman and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers are taking this step through the Israel Relations Normalization Act of 2021. The bill, also known as S.1061, would make it U.S. policy to strengthen and expand these normalization agreements. It lays out required steps to do so and mandates several government agencies coordinate to reach these goals. Those agencies would be the Department of State, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Agency for International Development. 

“We need to re-energize these efforts on the Abraham Accords and ensure that what we already have is implemented in a way that is really meaningful,” Portman said. “And that we pass this legislation to codify what’s happened so far, and expand it and get other countries engaged and involved. And that’s really an exciting opportunity you have in the Middle East today.”

Not only are such agreements good for Israel, he said, but can benefit U.S. companies, including those in Ohio, citing improved relations leading to the Cleveland Clinic’s new facility in the UAE. Portman also mentioned the energy-based economic opportunities for Ohio given that the state is an oil and natural gas producer.

That bill has broad support, with 72 senators from both parties signing on, but is currently being held up by Senate opponents. Portman also discussed the need to do everything possible to prevent Iran from developing nuclear capabilities. That includes instituting the strongest possible economic sanctions on Iran and companies that do business with it, he said. 

A nuclear Iran “is not just an existential threat to Israel, which of course they believe it is,” Portman said. “But it’s an existential threat to the entire world. Because if you started this effort of using nuclear weapons in the region, it would quickly escalate.” Sanctions are “obviously the place where we have the most leverage. And that’s the only thing I can think of right now that would be effective.” Looking back on the trip, Portman said it is clear America needs to support Israel and help protect it from the numerous threats it faces. 

“Bottom line is, I think the trip was helpful to reinforce the fact that we need to continue to provide support to Israel in every way, and obviously Iron Dome, and make sure that we are cognizant of the great threat that they face from Iran is at the top of that list,” he said.

 

Portman voices concern over rise in overdose deaths

On November 30, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) held a press conference call to provide updates on several pertinent state and federal issues. Among his chief concerns is the influx of fentanyl into Ohio, as evidenced by an increase in deaths by drug overdose.

“There has been a 26 percent increase in drug overdose deaths in Ohio in the last 12 months,” Portman stated. “Over half of those were due to fentanyl.”

He is particularly frustrated by this troubling statistic, because in 2018, there had been a 22 percent decrease in overdose deaths, as supply from China was curbed. Now, the drugs are coming in from Mexico, exacerbated by the migrant crisis at the Southern border. Government agencies are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people attempting to illegally enter the United States, making it even harder to stop drug smugglers. Furthermore, demand for illicit drugs increased during lockdowns, when support groups could not meet, and at-risk people felt even more isolated. “Look-alike” drugs, such as pressed pills appearing to be Xanax, but which actually contain fentanyl, are contributing to the high mortality rate. Such pills were found circulating in Cleveland recently.

Portman then fielded questions from reporters in attendance, many of which centered on the economy. He was asked about the state unemployment rate, and how to reconcile that to the prevalent staffing shortages suffered by many companies.

“There are 10 million out of work, and 13 million jobs,” Portman said. “There is a skills gap, which we are trying to resolve at the federal level so people can be trained and fill some of those positions.” Portman explained that Pell Grant money could be used for training programs, such as obtaining CDLs, welding, or coding certifications. “Less than half of all Pell Grant recipients graduate college,” Portman observed, citing that the funds would be more beneficial if they were utilized for short-term training to match people with jobs.

The senator discussed the new inflation numbers, stating that October’s rate was 0.9 percent. He blamed new government spending and stimulus money, which creates demand. Coupled with limited supply, this demand is driving inflation, and for this reason, Portman opposes the Build Back Better Act.

Portman concluded the call with a brief on the 15 missionaries from the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, held for the past six weeks in Haiti. The Senator said he is keeping abreast of the situation, and maintaining efforts, along with his colleagues, to secure their release.

 

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