U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) today urged support for his plan to “pay for” a three-month extension of emergency unemployment insurance by abolishing “double-dipping” in other benefits.
Mr. Portman also confirmed a report from the White House that he was one of three Republican senators called by President Obama on Tuesday. He said he was in a Cleveland halfway house promoting sentencing reform through the Second Chance Act when the call came.
He said he told the President he would support the unemployment insurance extension "if he would 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."
He didn't say what President Obama said to him, and said he discussed the conversation only because the White House disclosed it first.
Mr. Portman was one of six Republicans to join majority Democrats on Tuesday in voting to allow debate to move ahead on the $6 billion bill to extend unemployment benefits for another 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 after the extension passes in the Senate, as is expected, 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.
Asked why the double-dipping hasn’t been fixed before, Mr. Portman said that Congress is not performing the oversight it should be doing.
“It’s been kicking around for years now and it’s time to do it. We haven’t had the kind of oversight we should in Congress,” Mr. Portman said.
He also acknowledged that his “pay-for” of ending double-dipping would take 10 years to offset the cost of the three-month extension. He said that is the way the Senate budgets, and that regardless of how long it takes, “if it’s the right policy let’s do it now.”
Mr. Portman also alluded to his Dec. 23 visit to Findlay when the downtown was flooded by the Blanchard River and said he has urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to finish a study aimed at recommending how to mitigate future flooding disasters.
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.
He 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.