'Let's make it bipartisan': Ohio Senator Rob Portman says COVID relief bill will struggle to pass

Rob Portman
Posted at 12:25 PM, Feb 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-28 12:25:35-05

Ohio Senator Rob Portman appeared on ABC's "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday where he outlined issues he had with the current COVID-19 relief bill—recently passed in the House and now facing approval from the Senate—calling for negotiations to make the bill more "bipartisan."

Portman said that he believes the bill has too many items unrelated to coronavirus for it to easily pass, but it would have a greater chance with more bipartisanship.

"There's an easy answer to this, which is: let's make it bipartisan. I mean, COVID relief has never been a partisan issue," Portman said. "So, this is not like taxes or healthcare, this is COVID relief, which has always been a bipartisan issue."

Stephanopoulos told Portman that, according to the New York Times, 40% of Rebublican voters support the current COVID-19 relief bill, and the senator then addressed the issues he has with the items included in the bill.

"I guess, if checks are coming out to people's homes, that's going to be popular, but that doesn't mean that this is the right bill," Portman said. "It's $1.9 billion. More than half of it, George, won't even be spent in this calendar year, based on the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. So, how could it be about COVID relief? No one expects a year from now that we’ll be in the COVID crisis that we’re in now. So, it just doesn't make any sense. So a number of things in here that have nothing to do with COVID relief."

Portman cited items such as "$100 million for an underground transit system in the Silicon Valley," money for a "bridge in New York" and "hundreds of millions of dollars for the arts and so on."

Before the bill passed the House, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that a minimum wage hike could not be included in the bill if the Senate uses budget reconciliation to pass the bill. Buried within the stimulus bill was a proposal to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15 an hour by 2025.

"There are things that have nothing do with COVID that are unrelated. Minimum wage was one, of course. Even the child tax credit and earned income tax credit increases won't occur until next year in terms of people getting that credit," Portman said. "So it's just not targeted."

Portman said there is a "Republican alternative" to the current COVID-19 relief bill, which he says is more focused on the pandemic itself.

"We have a Republican alternative. As you know, we've been talking with the president and his people about it but have gotten no response, which is much more targeted and focused on the real health care and economic matters that are urgent. And that's what we ought to do," Portman said. "We've done it again five times before. This is not difficult. We can work together on this one and then continue to work together on infrastructure and retirement security and supply chain issues with China and so on. So my hope is that they'll change their mind before this over."

The current stimulus bill includes $1,400 checks for most Americans making less than $75,000 a year. It also includes $1,400 for eligible dependents. The proposal increases the child tax credit to $3,000 per year ($3,600 for children under age 6). And it extends enhanced unemployment benefits through September.

The bill also replenishes funds for small business grants, and adds nearly $130 billion for schools to retain staff and implement social distancing protocols.

As the bill moves to the Senate, Portman sees it having a difficult road ahead to get passed.

"It is going to be very, very close...for them to get this done is going to be difficult. Hopefully they'll back up and say, let's work with some Republicans and do something bipartisan as we have done over the past year," Portman said.

RELATED: House Democrats approve $1.9 trillion stimulus bill