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Thursday, August 6, 2020
“On Senate Floor, Portman Highlights Common Ground Between Republicans and Democrats & Urges Bipartisan Cooperation to Complete Work on Next COVID-19 Package
August 4, 2020 | Press Releases
WASHINGTON, DC – This evening on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) urged his colleagues to look to policy proposals with bipartisan support as the foundation for an effective COVID-19 Phase 5 rescue package that meets the challenges all Americans are facing due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He believes negotiations should build on shared policy goals like bolstering the health care response to the coronavirus pandemic, providing tax incentives to support a safe and effective reopening of workplaces and the economy, supporting schools and other entities through increased funding for personal protective equipment and other preventative and safety measures, and ensuring the financial well-being of all Americans through another round of stimulus checks.
Mr. President, I also want to talk this afternoon a little about the HEROES legislation, the HEALS legislation, and some of the commonalities I see between the two. On the floor of the Senate this week, there’s been some discussion about the need for us to come together in a bipartisan way to put together a package to deal with the coronavirus. Some have called it the COVID 5.0 package. It’s really probably 8.0. We’ve done a lot of legislation already, but there are things that still need to be done and some urgent matters, including dealing with the expiration of the unemployment insurance.
“I’m on the floor today to talk about how I see the opportunity for us to move ahead by looking at some of the commonalities between the Democratic support and the Republican support for different legislation. As we all know, the discussions over the past week have not moved forward as quickly as we would like. In fact, it’s pretty discouraging.
Despite the fact that many people thought the HEROES Act was really a messaging bill — ‘Politico’ wrote a story, one of our news media sources up here, they said a messaging bill that has no chance of becoming law. Others made the same comments. Why? Because it was a $3.5 trillion price tag for legislation which would make it by far the most expensive bill ever passed by either House of Congress. But also at a time when we had $1.1 trillion left over from the CARES package and states have only allocated an average of about 25 percent of their CARES Act funding, it seemed like pushing taxpayers to foot the bill for the costliest legislation in history maybe wasn’t the right way to go. Also, it had virtually no support from Republicans. Also, this legislation included a lot of stuff that had nothing to do with COVID-19. So the sense was, yes, it’s an important messaging bill for Democrats, that’s out there, but that we needed to figure out a way now to come together as Republicans and Democrats.
“Leader McConnell also introduced legislation. That legislation is called the HEALS Act. Now, it’s time for us to figure out how to come together and figure out a solution going forward. And we, particularly with regard to some of these urgent matters like unemployment insurance, we’re already past time. Unemployment insurance expired last Friday. So we’ve got to move forward with that. We should not be playing politics with people’s livelihoods and making this a political football.
Last week and again today, my colleague from Arizona, Senator McSally, introduced what I thought was a very common-sense idea — let’s extend the existing unemployment insurance $600 per week federal supplement for another week while we continue these negotiations so that people aren’t going to see their unemployment insurance checks decrease substantially.
They would lose all the federal benefit unless we do that. They’d still have the state benefit but lose the $600 per week. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats said no, objected to this commonsense idea. I don’t quite get that. I think we ought to keep the $600 in place while we negotiate for the next week, and we ought to be sure and put the interest of the American people first and come to a common-sense solution.
“Now isn’t the time for games. It’s the time to get it right. I also note that with regard to unemployment insurance, there are lots of ideas out there. For the last few months I’ve been proposing the idea of a return-to-work bonus. Maybe that’s not the best idea. Maybe people have better ideas. The notion there would be the $600, which is the current federal benefit, allows people on unemployment insurance in many cases to have more income on unemployment than they would working. According to studies that have been done, including by the University of Chicago, about 68 percent of the people on unemployment insurance are making more money on unemployment insurance than they were making at work. Now most Americans, including most members of this chamber, Republicans and Democrats alike, think that’s not right. You shouldn’t make more not to work. Unemployment insurance is meant to give you a little help — in Ohio it’s about 50 percent up to a certain cap — but it’s not meant to replace your wages plus, which is what’s happening, on average a 134 percent increase in wages if you’re on unemployment insurance.
“So there must be a way for us to come together and to solve this problem. There are Democrats and Republicans alike who have talked about perhaps lowering that amount from $600. I heard one of my Democratic colleagues on the floor today, a gentleman from Oregon talk about maybe you could tie it to the unemployment in the state. Others of us, again I have talked about the return-to-work bonus. You could take that $600 with you and go back to work, which would deal with, on a voluntary basis, the need for people to go back to work because employers are looking for folks. Right now in Ohio, we have a lot of jobs open, a lot of manufacturing jobs, as an example. I was at a plant recently, a Ford plant, where they are looking for people. They have a 25 percent absenteeism rate right now. They attribute a lot of that to the fact people can make more money on unemployment insurance. But they need the workers badly. There are Honda plants in Ohio, it’s another one of our manufacturers, where the white collar workers are going to work on the assembly line because they can’t get enough workers coming in. I hear it across the board.
“I’ve heard it from those who are involved with developmental disabilities trying to get their workforce back. I’ve heard it from people who are involved with the treatment for opioids, so the alcohol and drug addiction boards, trying to get their people to come back to work. I’ve heard it from our small businesses who are trying to figure out how to reopen and reopen safely but have a tough time getting people to come back to work. So there’s a need for us to figure this out. For the workers themselves, it’s much better for them to be connected with their employer again, isn’t it? After all, that’s where they’re likely to get their health care, if they have it. They’re likely to get their retirement savings. They’re likely to get the training there to be able to keep up with the times. It’s good to have people at work. The dignity and self-respect you get from work is something that’s of value. We should all want that.
“So all of us in this chamber should focus on this issue and say, ‘Okay, the $600 was put in place during a tough summer.’ Let’s be honest. A lot of people had a really tough time. And some people are still having a tough time. There should still be in my view a federal supplement. But it can’t be paying people more not to work than to work. That makes no sense as we’re starting to open this economy and open it safely. We’ve got to figure out a way forward here. There are some Democrats who have worked on this issue. Timothy Geithner, as an example of one, who was the Secretary of Treasury under President Obama who has put forward, along with other Democrats and Republicans a proposal that says, let’s lower the amount and let’s tie it to the unemployment. So this is something that, in talking to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, including some Democratic colleagues who have talked to me privately that, you know, they get it, that this is not working and we need to fix it. So let’s do that.
“It seems to me there’s a lot of commonality there and we should be able to figure out a way forward. Let me mention some of the other places where I see a lot of commonality. First, both Republicans and Democrats agree that it’s absolutely essential that as people return to work, they do so safely. In the legislation that we talked about earlier, the HEALS package, which Senator McConnell introduced, there is a proposal that’s called the Healthy Workplace Tax Credit Act, and basically what it says is, if a business is willing to put in place safety measures like a Plexiglas shield, or do testing, or have the PPE, the gloves and the masks and in some cases the gowns that are needed to stay safe, they should be able to get a tax credit for that. So it not only encourages more employment but it encourages employers to open in a safe way. I spoke to a bunch of restaurants yesterday from Ohio. They called in to talk about the legislation. They love this because they’ve got a lot of costs associated with making their places safe during the coronavirus pandemic. But this legislation again is being stuck because we can’t seem to get to a negotiation. That’s one where Republicans and Democrats could come together.
“There’s another one that I think makes a lot of sense. It’s called the Work Opportunity Tax Credit expansion. That also is in the HEALS legislation. This has always been a bipartisan issue. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit we’ve said is simply that, just as you can get a tax credit to hire veterans or to hire second chance individuals that have come out of the prison system, you should be able to hire people from unemployment insurance who have lost their job because of COVID-19 and get a tax credit. This is something that again Democrats and Republicans should be able to work on together.
“And then finally in the HEALS package, we also have legislation that has a lot of appeal to Republicans and Democrats that is an expansion of the Employee Retention Tax Credit from the bipartisan CARES Act. This is legislation that passed 96-0 around here. And we say let’s make this Employee Retention Tax Credit work better. We expand the amount you can get in terms of tax credit. Expand the amount of time that has to be covered. Makes it a much better package for small businesses to use to be able to attract employees and to retain the employees that they have. Again, this is a nonpartisan, I would say, and certainly one that can be bipartisan. And historically these tax provisions have had bipartisan support. I worked with my friend Ben Cardin in designing the Employee Retention Credit back in March, expanding the Opportunity Tax Credit has always had bipartisan support and the Healthy Workplace Tax Credit — Senator Sinema actually has a very similar bill.
“Second, there’s agreement on both sides of the aisle we’ve got to support our schools and businesses so our kids can get back into the classroom and our parents can get back to work. With regard to schools, there’s supposedly a big partisan divide over this issue. But as I see it, I see schools money being practically identical in the HEALS package and HEROES Act that passed the House of Representatives. In fact, House Democrats provided around $58 billion for K-12. The HEALS Act actually increases that to $70 billion. So there’s actually more money in the HEALS legislation.
“On the business front, both Democrats and Republicans have seen value in the Paycheck Protection Program we introduced in the CARES Act, which is why both bills seek to expand it — albeit in somewhat different ways, but there’s greater consensus here than one might think. We just need to sort out the details. My colleague from Louisiana is here with me tonight in the chamber. He has talked a lot about the need for us to improve the way we provide funding to local governments, municipalities, and to provide more flexibility. I don’t think there’s much disagreement about that on either side of the aisle. There may be disagreement on the numbers, the amount of funding, but again the HEALS package has some funding. The Democrats have more funding. But flexibility, that’s one where I think there’s a lot of bipartisan consensus… MORE