Senator Rob Portman of Ohio surprised a lot of people in voting to advance debate on the unemployment insurance extension today. But walking out of the Senate chamber, he seemed a bit surprised himself there was so much interest in his vote from the throng of reporters that followed him back to his office in the Russell building.
“I don’t even know what the vote [tally] was,” he confessed, asking what the result had been. The Senate GOP leadership, he added, hadn’t put any pressure on him to vote one way or the other.
In voting to advance the bill, Portman said he hopes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will provide an actual debate – affording an opportunity to reform the program.
“The more you look into this the more you realize it’s not working to help the long-term unemployed. We have the highest levels in the history of our country right now. So just to extend again is not the answer. Second, I do think that historic levels of debt and these massive deficits impacts the economy right now. And for us to not pay for it after just going through this budget debate, where we established caps …. I think is a mistake,” Portman says.
Regarding arguments from conservatives that extending unemployment benefits could have the unintended effect of disincentivizing people to find work, Portman says “I think it depends on the situation. For a lot of people, [they] really don’t have the skills, can’t find a job. For others, I’m sure there is some disincentive.”
Portman is working on a proposal to pay for the new spending with an offset and also help workers learn new skills to connect them to open jobs for which there are few workers.
“We need to figure out how to connect people to jobs. One of the big issues in Ohio and elsewhere is people do not have the skills to take advantage of the openings that are out there. In Ohio we have about 100,000 jobs open. We need to connect those who are on unemployment insurance to those jobs,” he says.
The Ohioan is still undecided whether he’ll vote for the final product. “It depends on what we can work out,” Portman says.