WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ohio Sen. Rob Portman supports more relief for individuals and entities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but he wants to see changes made to the proposed American Rescue Plan Act.
The American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief and economic stimulus package, passed in the House of Representatives by a 219-212 vote mostly along party lines on Feb. 27. It’s now being debated in the Senate.
Democrats hope to pass the legislation through reconciliation, a process that only would require 51 votes for approval. With Vice President Kamala Harris potentially acting as the tie-breaking vote, Democrats wouldn’t need any Republican votes to pass the bill.
“I hope that we’ll be able to make some changes to the bill through some reasonable, thoughtful, bipartisan amendments,” Portman, a Republican from Cincinnati, said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon. “We’ll see. But overall I’m discouraged by the fact that the Democrats on the hill and the [President Joe] Biden administration are choosing to go this route.”
Portman said he’s working with his Democratic colleagues on potential amendments to the American Rescue Plan but isn’t sure they’ll accept any of his suggestions. In February, Portman and nine other Republican senators offered a $618 billion COVID-19 relief proposal.
Along with his complaint that the American Rescue Plan is moving forward without bipartisan support, Portman also said he thinks the legislation isn’t targeted enough at COVID-19 relief. He contended that some of the funds would go to people and groups that don’t really need additional assistance and said much of the money wouldn’t be spent until after the pandemic is done.
Portman criticized the inclusion of $1.5 million of funding in the bill for the Seaway International Bridge connecting New York to Canada. In May 2020, the Transportation Department asked for funds to make up for toll revenues that dropped due to decreased traffic from the pandemic.
Portman also criticized funding that’s included for a Silicon Valley railway project. The American Rescue Plan includes $1.425 billion for mass transit, including a 6-mile extension of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, a project that former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced in August 2019.
Portman agreed with Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted that funds in any COVID-19 relief should be directed to states based on population, not based on unemployment data.
“It benefits those states that have higher unemployment,” the senator said.
Beyond the American Rescue Plan, Portman decried wasteful spending in general by the federal government. He and other Republican senators introduced a bill this week that would permanently ban earmarks, provisions in appropriations bills that direct funds to specific recipients.
Portman said earmarks tend to reward members of Congress, especially long-standing members of Congress, with funds for their constituencies instead of directing funds based on the merit of projects.
“Members of Congress shouldn’t be able to get earmarks based on their seniority,” he said. “It should go through a merit-based, competitive allocation process.”