Portman weighs unemployment insurance

Republican senator backs 3-month extension

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    U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) said Thursday he hopes his plan to pay for a three-month extension of emergency unemployment insurance by abolishing “double dipping” in other benefits gains traction in the Senate and the Republican-controlled House.

    Mr. Portman also confirmed a report from the White House that he was one of three Republican senators called by President Obama prior to a procedural vote on Tuesday.

    He said he was in a Cleveland halfway house promoting the Second Chance Act aimed at reducing recidivism Monday when the call came.

    “It was a conversation about a number of things,” Mr. Portman said.

    “He did talk to me about unemployment insurance. I asked him if he'd be willing to help us pay for it since it’s clear that given our debt and deficit we shouldn’t be spending money we don’t have and if this is a priority for the country, which I believe it is, to reform this program, we ought to find the funding to do it,” Mr. Portman said.

    Mr. Portman was one of six Republicans to join majority Democrats on Tuesday in voting to allow debate to move ahead on the $6.4 billion bill to extend unemployment benefits for three months.

    More than 2,000 Lucas County residents would see unemployment insurance checks if the measure passes.

    Mr. Portman's plan would end a loophole that allows some people to receive Social Security Disability Insurance while also receiving unemployment insurance or Trade Adjustment Assistance, which costs $5.4 billion over 10 years.

    “We think it ought to be paid for; why wouldn't we pay for it at a time when we have record debt and these huge deficits,” Mr. Portman said in a telephone conference call with Ohio reporters.

    “Second, this busts the budget” that passed a few weeks ago, he said.

    He also said the three-month extension period should be used to “reform” unemployment insurance to better connect unemployed people with jobs that are available.

    He said Ohio has about 100,000 jobs available and 400,000 people out of work.

    Even if the extension passes in the Senate, it has to overcome Republican opposition in the House.

    “We have reached out to the House Budget Committee to talk about the pay-fors, and we’re hopeful if it is paid for and there is a strong commitment to reform that we can get support on both sides of the capital,” Mr. Portman said.

    Ohio’s other U.S. Senator, Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, on Wednesday released statistics saying that 2,342 Lucas County residents need the unemployment insurance extension.

    He said the bill affects 1.3 million Americans, 128,000 Ohioans, and the Lucas County residents.

    The average weekly unemployment benefit in Ohio is $318, and the maximum in Ohio is $413.

    Senator Brown cited a report by the U.S. Department of Labor and the President’s Council of Economic Advisers that for every dollar spent on unemployment insurance benefits, $1.55 is generated in economic recovery.

    Contact Tom Troy: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419--724-6058 or an Twitter @TomFTroy.