A picture of Senator Rob Portman
Robert P.
Republican OH

About Sen. Robert
  • Hire More Heroes Act of 2015—Continued

    by Senator Rob Portman

    Posted on 2015-07-28

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    PORTMAN. Madam President, thank you. To the chair of the committee, congratulations, Mr. Inhofe, on the progress made so far with regard to the highway bill, indicating that we will pass something on Thursday and send it over to the House. It is important we address this issue. It is important we put people back to work. We have crumbling roads and bridges.

    I hope everybody in this Chamber agrees that we need a highway bill and, specifically, we need one as long-term as possible in order to give people predictability and certainty to be able to plan projects and to be able to deal with what is an increasing problem in our country, which is a lack of funds in infrastructure.

    I hear it back home in Ohio. What I am hearing is: Give us certainty. Let us know what the plan is. Congress, in doing these short-term extensions, is not creating a plan.

    If we end up with a short-term extension because the House and Senate can't agree, then I hope we will make a commitment when we do that to say: OK. After whatever that short-term period is--I have heard the rumor of 3 months--that at that point we will come up with a long-term proposal together.

    I happen to think one way we could find a longer term proposal is to have international tax reform. We should do it anyway. We should do it whether or not the highway trust fund is connected to it. There are ways to reform the Tax Code so companies that are overseas, that have revenues overseas, that won't bring them back now because our tax rates are so high might be willing to bring them back at a lower rate. If they bring those funds back and are taxed on those funds, there might be an opportunity to provide some funding for long-term solutions to the highway trust fund, perhaps in conjunction with some of the other pay-fors that are part of the bill we are talking about. International tax reform is necessary in and of itself. I didn't come to the floor to talk about that, although tomorrow we do have a hearing in the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on this very issue.

    I will tell my colleagues and those who are listening, if we do not reform our Tax Code, update our currently noncompetitive Tax Code, we are going to see more and more jobs and investment going overseas. It is that simple.

    We already see it. Last year, in dollar terms, there were twice as many foreign acquisitions of U.S. companies than there were the year before. Think about that. These are big companies with big names. One name you might know is Burger King, another is Budweiser. Another one that is thinking about it is Monsanto. These are big companies.

    A lot of companies have already decided they are not going to stay in the United States because our Tax Code is so bad. It puts them at such a disadvantage vis-a-vis their competitors around the world that they can't survive. They have to become foreign entities in order to be competitive. We have to fix that. It is Washington that is creating the problem. Many criticize these companies. I say if there is any blame to show, it is right here in Washington, DC, by allowing the Tax Code that was written in the 1960s to continue when every other one of our competitors around the world has reformed their tax codes and lowered their rates. This is something we can and should do. There is bipartisan consensus around this--maybe not in the details but in a framework.

    Senator Schumer, on the other side of the aisle, and I put together a report on this recently. We spent 3 or 4 months working on this, but it is a combination of a lot of different hearings and projects that have been undertaken over the last several years on this. We know what we have to do. We know we have to go to a competitive international system that allows us to be able to say to our workers in America: We are going to give you the tools to compete and win. We are not going to allow you to continue to have to compete with one hand tied behind your back, which is what is happening right now. The beneficiaries of this would be the American economy but specifically the American worker.

    The folks in the boardrooms are going to be fine one way or the other. When you have these foreign acquisitions of U.S. companies or you have these so-called inversions where companies go overseas, the major executives in the company do just fine. The stock usually goes up. What happens is you lose workforce, you lose jobs here in America, salaries don't go up--they stay flat--and that is who is taking the brunt of this. So we have to fix that system, and I think we can do it perhaps in the next few months as part of this highway trust fund. That would be, I hope, an incentive to do it. Again, we should do it anyway, even if there is no highway trust fund need for us to find additional sources of funding.

    In the meantime, I applaud the chairman and others who included in the highway trust fund legislation we are currently looking at. This is the legislation the chairman says we are likely to vote on Thursday. Included in that are a couple of other provisions that are quite helpful.

    The one I want to talk about is with regard to regulations and permitting. When you think about it, we are struggling to find enough money to put into the highway trust fund to extend it as long as possible, right? Everybody is concerned about the fact that we have roads and bridges and can't put enough people back to work. One solution to this is to go to the taxpayers and say: We need more funding from the Federal tax base to go into this. That is what is happening, frankly. Another one is to say is there a better way to build these roads and bridges to save money so every tax dollar goes further, so we are telling the American people we are not only funding infrastructure, but we are [[Page S6063]] doing it in the most cost-effective, efficient way. That is not happening now. One reason it is not happening now is because it is so darn hard to permit something, so hard to get the green light to go ahead and start construction on something.

    I hear this all the time back home. I hear it with regard to commercial buildings, I hear it with regard to energy projects, and I hear it with regard to roads and bridges. You have so many hoops you have to go through, many of which are Federal, some of which are local, some of which are State--many of which are Federal, that it adds costs to the project. It adds delay to the project, and it makes it so you are always worried about a litigation risk because people can go back years after the project is completed and say: Aha. I am going to file a lawsuit because you didn't follow all of these Federal regulations and rules quite the way you should have. That adds cost that we should not be incurring.

    Instead, as we pass this highway bill, we are going to pass something that is called permitting reform. The Federal permitting system is being reformed in this underlying bill. My colleagues ought to know about that. I am going to make a plea that regardless of what happens, whether it is a 6-year bill, which I think would be great, again adding predictability and certainty, or whether it is 3 years, which maybe we are going to pass on Thursday, or whether it is 3 months, which is what some are saying--the rumor is perhaps the House will send it back to the Senate--whatever the extension period is, let's include this legislation to make it easier to green-light a project to have America get back into the business of building things, not just roads and bridges--although it will help on this bill--but also other projects: energy projects, construction projects, commercial buildings, and so on.

    Let me give you a really frightening statistic. There is a group that does an international assessment every year of all the countries in the world. It asks: How easy is it to do business in various countries? They compare the countries. One of the countries of course in the mix is us, the United States of America. You would hope we would be at the top of the list--the best place to invest--that we would be the country, since we are a capitalist free enterprise country where we value ingenuity and want to move forward with projects and get things done, that we would be at the top of the list. We are not. We are now No. 41 in the world in terms of the ease to get a construction permit to build something--No. 41 in the world.

    Capital is global these days. It moves around the world, and certainly around the country, but around the world. So you go to a big city overseas, let's say London. You see all sorts of cranes. Why? Because actually in that city it is easier to build something than it is here in the United States. That is crazy. We should have a system here in the United States where you have to go for the proper regulations, you have to be sure you are building something that is safe and environmentally sound, but that it is easy to do it. You can do it quickly. We are now 41st in the world.

    This drives investment out of the United States and puts that investment in other countries. This is why this legislation is so important. Again, for the roads and bridges it is important, but also in general to put people back to work.

    Here is something interesting about this legislation. We have worked on this for almost 4 years--about 3.5 years now. My cosponsor is Claire McCaskill, who is a Democrat, so we have a Republican and a Democrat doing this together. Over time we have been able to build support, slowly but surely, to the point that we now have a good group of bipartisan cosponsors, pretty evenly balanced between Republicans and Democrats, but we also have some support from the outside that is unusually balanced.

    We have the Chamber of Commerce supporting this in the business community. That might be expected. A lot of them are interested in how to build something and build it more quickly, but we also have the AFL- CIO building trades council strongly in support of this. I appreciate that. Because they get it. This is about work and specifically about construction jobs. A lot of those jobs went away during the financial crisis of 2007, 2008, and 2009. They have been slow to come back. Unemployment is still relatively high among construction workers. Frankly, a lot of them have moved on to something else because they have not had jobs.

    The AFL-CIO building trades council and the business community are together on this. They are working with us together to ensure that we can get this done in the highway bill and to move forward with not just something that will help on roads and bridges, but it will help on all kinds of projects.

    I heard about this in the context of energy. When I first got elected, a company came to me. It is called American Municipal Power, AMP. AMP does small energy projects all over our State and some other States. They came to me and said: You know, Rob, we have been trying to put a powerplant on the Ohio River. Now, you might think that normally would be a coal plant or a gas plant, or even a nuclear plant--there are all those along the Ohio River. They said: No, we are actually trying to put a hydro plant. The Ohio River is not a particularly natural place for hydro, you would not think, but it turns out there is a nice flow in the Ohio River. It is a big river.

    They had this great idea at the locks of the Ohio River to add a municipal powerplant, hydroplant, but they said: We cannot get through all of these Federal hoops. There are up to 35 different Federal licenses and permits you now have to get to do an energy project. Think about that. You have to get 35 different Federal licenses and permits in order to start construction and to move forward with an energy project.

    That is what they found in the Ohio River. They came to me and said: What can you do to help? We started to look at it and figured out: My gosh. The right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. You have so many agencies involved, so many different interests involved, whether it is the Army Corps of Engineers, the USGS, whether it is EPA, whether it is again State and local regulations. I am just talking about the Federal side when I talk about the 35 permits and regulations.

    What American Municipal Power wanted was to be able to get something done in a predictable way and have somebody be accountable. We liked that idea, so we moved forward with this legislation providing more accountability.

    We also heard from Baard Energy. Baard had plans to build a $6 billion synthetic fuels plant in Wellsville, OH. This was a coal-to- liquid plant that would not only convert coal into clean diesel and jet fuel, it would also have created, we were told, up to 2,500 jobs. This is in a part of Eastern Ohio where these jobs are so valuable, so precious.

    They couldn't do it at the end of the day because the permitting delays and the lawsuits they got so interfered with the project that their capital left. It wasn't patient enough to wait around for all the delays, all the potential lawsuits, all the problems. So, again, from them we learned: Well, let's have accountability, one agency responsible, but also let's look at this issue of not just lack of accountability, but the fact that these lawsuits continue to slow these projects down and make it more difficult to move forward.

    Our legislation addresses all of these issues. It does so in a very thoughtful and, I think, reasonable way, in a way that is common sense. We have got support on both sides of the aisle. First of all, it strengthens coordination and deadline setting. We talked about having some accountability. One agency is now accountable, so instead of agencies being able to go: Well, you know, we are fine, but how about this other agency? Not our fault, their fault, pointing fingers. Now you have got one agency that is in charge.

    Deadline setting. This creates an interagency council to best identify what the best practices are, but also set deadlines for reviews. Right now with no deadlines, the things often go on and on and on, in approvals of important infrastructure projects.

    It also strengthens cooperation between the State and local permitting authorities, another problem. As I said earlier, there are local and State issues as well, and we try to avoid duplication and the delay that comes from that.

    Second, the legislation facilitates greater transparency and greater public participation in the permitting [[Page S6064]] process. It creates what we call an online dashboard where you can look at the dashboard--whether you are a company that is involved in this or whether you are a member of the public who is interested in this--you can look on that dashboard and see this is where the permit is. OK. It is at that agency. Well, why? You can see whether it has completed its review. And where are we on this? It encourages not just the ability to track agency progress, which I think will have a very important effect--sunlight is the best disinfectant sometimes in bringing this out; making the transparency better is a good idea, but it also brings more input from stakeholders.

    We also require in our legislation that the agencies accept comments from stakeholders early in the approval process. Why? Because another problem we found was that often the concerns come very late in the process, so you have an investment, you have workers working on this. All of a sudden a concern comes in, it stops everything, slows it down, and makes it very inefficient.

    Instead we are saying: OK. Comments, they are very important, but let's accept those comments earlier in the process. Let's identify these important public concerns from the very start. Then finally, it institutes a set of litigation reforms that I think is very important. One I will mention, which I think is probably going to be surprising to a lot of people: Right now there is a statute of limitations on lawsuits that runs 6 years. This is after the environmental review, the NEPA review--6 years. Think about that. We limit that 6 years to 2 years. I would have liked to limit it even further to be frank.

    In our original legislation we tried to limit it even further, but this again is a consensus-building project. We want to be sure we kept the bipartisan support, we kept support on the outside, including from groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council that have worked with us on this.

    So we have accountability, transparency, litigation reforms, with the whole goal of saying: Let's take, in the case of these construction projects, the roads and bridges, the Federal dollars, and let's let them work in a more efficient way so every dollar goes further, so we can get these roads and bridges going, so we are not paying so much for delays and redtape, so we are not paying so much more for lawsuits, so we can actually get this thing moving. That is in this legislation.

    I hope my colleagues who, like me, go back home and hear about regulatory reform and the need for us to streamline the process will strongly support this part of the legislation, even if they cannot support all of the legislation. I hope they will continue to push this Senate and the House of Representatives to pass this permitting reform legislation.

    If we do that and it lands on the President's desk, I believe he will sign it. I believe that because we have worked with him closely and because frankly it will have such strong bipartisan support. It is the right thing to do. It enables us to say to the people we represent: You know what. We are not just asking for some more money for roads and bridges, which is important and will create more jobs and make our economy more efficient--we need to do that. The crumbling infrastructure is real.

    It is also an opportunity for us to do it in a more efficient way. The President's job council, at the end of 2011, issued a report. You might remember that. President Obama selected Jeffrey Immelt, who is a very widely respected executive--GE CEO--to chair the jobs council. He came up with a bunch of recommendations, many of which I think were very constructive.

    One was about this very issue. This is what they said. They said we ought to reform the permitting process because we should, as the President said, ``do everything we can to make it easier for folks to bring products to market, and to start and expand new businesses, and to grow and hire new workers.'' That was the President.

    Sean McGarvey is the president of the North America's Building Trades Union. We talked about the AFL-CIO building trades union. This is what Sean McGarvey has said: ``If there was ever an issue that could be considered a no-brainer for Congress, the Federal Permitting Improvement Act is it.'' I agree with Sean. This is a no-brainer. Let's get it done as part of the legislation we are going to pass this week. I believe we will pass it. If we do not pass the highway bill this week, let's ensure that we include the permitting reforms in whatever we do pass.

    Again, whether it is a 3-month extension or a 6-year extension, we should be sure that we are removing unnecessary delays, bureaucratic hurdles, so that more Americans who are looking for a job can find a job, and so that tax dollars can go further. I want to thank Claire McCaskill, the Senator from Missouri, who has been the cosponsor of this over the last few years. Sometimes it has not been easy working through this. She has taken some arrows, but it is the right thing to do. It is meaningful legislation that will actually help move our economy in the right direction and help us to be able to repair more of these roads and bridges because we will be doing it more efficiently.

    I yield the floor.

    I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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