Portman, Ryan Update Legislative Action on Coronavirus

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – U.S. Sen. Rob Portman lamented the lack of progress on a proposed third stimulus package to address the impact of the coronavirus outbreak Tuesday.

During an afternoon call with reporters, Portman, R-Ohio, addressed the negotiations as well as discussions about when measures to mitigate the virus can be lifted and legislation to force President Donald Trump to federalize the manufacturing and distribution of scarce in-demand medical supplies.

Despite media reports earlier in the day expressing optimism about an agreement being near, the senator – who was involved with negotiations over the weekend regarding the package — expressed frustration with Democrats, who blocked the legislation moving forward because they wanted changes.

“That’s their right, but as a result of that we have delayed progress,” missing a promised deadline of having a bill done by Monday, he said.

The bill already contained several priorities that Democrats wanted, such as the “largest expansion of unemployment insurance” in the nation’s history, but they have continued to add “extraneous” items.

“This is a process that has to be focused on the immediate crisis,” he said. “I urge my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to get this done. We can’t wait any longer.

The senator agreed with Democratic demands for stronger oversight of a $500 billion loan fund in the stimulus package intended to help distressed companies.

Portman told reporters that he agreed with those, including Trump, who say the economy needs to be reopened as soon as possible, “but we have to reopen it as soon as it is safe,” he said.

“Families aren’t going to send their kids back to school if they’re not sure that this is safe,” he said. “Small businesses aren’t going to want to open their doors, retailers aren’t going to want to start letting customers in again and customers won’t show up.”

Trump said Tuesday he wants to see the economy “opened up and just raring to go by Easter.”

Reopening the country that soon “goes against every ounce of evidence” and the opinions of top experts who have studied global pandemics, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan said Tuesday morning. Such a move would make the pandemic “dramatically worse,” he warned.

Judging when loosening current restrictions would be appropriate requires better testing and a “credible metric” – probably the number of new cases per day — for people to rely on, Portman said.

“Let’s have every day the ability for people to see what those metrics are, and as it improves, as we have fewer cases one day as compared to the previous day, that’s when we know we’re making progress,” he said. “With that, we’ll be able to reopen the economy.”

Portman also says he agreed with the goal of legislation introduced in the Senate – which is being introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives – to increase production of personal protective gear and other medical supplies and equipment.

The legislation by U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, would force Trump to implement the Defense Production Act of 1950 and federalize the manufacturing and distribution of scarce in-demand medical supplies.

Portman, who said he would look at the legislation, agreed that there needs to be increased production of ventilators, medication and other medical supplies, particularly domestically. Companies have already stepped up to help manufacture needed items.

“With regard to most crises, what we should try to do is create the incentives for those to be produced here and see how that works,” he said.

Ryan, D-13 Ohio, who is co-sponsoring companion legislation in the House to the Murphy-Schatz bill, discussed the proposal during a streamed news conference Tuesday morning.

“We can do this. We’re just asking the president to flip the switch, activate the American supply chain and let’s start protecting our front-line first responders and health-care workforce, and our area would gladly participate,” Ryan said. The legislation has bipartisan support in both houses of Congress, he said.

The legislation calls for Trump to identify private sector capacity to help provide at least 500 million N95 respirators, 200,000 medical ventilators, 20 million face shields, 500 million pairs of gloves, 20 million surgical gowns and other medical equipment deemed necessary.

“We are not prepared as of today. We’ve already started late to the game on testing,” Ryan said. “There’s no reason why we can’t ramp up this production rather immediately.”

Hard-hit states like New York, California and Washington already aren’t getting what they need to address the outbreak, Ryan said. “If those big states aren’t getting what they need, what’s going to happen to Ohio when we need it?” he questioned.

One of the initiatives being pushed is activating manufacturers across the country that utilize 3D printing to have them produce goggles, masks and other items, he said. He also is working with the Food and Drug Administration and America Makes, the Youngstown-based additive manufacturing hub, for certification.

Companies interested in producing virus supplies have reached out but have concerns about exposure because they don’t have Food and Drug Administration or other approvals. “They’re hesitant to do anything because they’re afraid they may get sued at some point,” he said.

Pictured: The U.S. Capitol Rotunda sits empty on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 16, 2020. Congress has shut the Capitol and all Senate and House office buildings to the public until April in reaction to the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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