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Portman chose not to negotiate, encourage Boehner to pass unemployment extension

Sen. Rob Portman revealed to the press that he did not speak to fellow Ohio representative Speaker of the House John Boehner to encourage him to put the unemployment benefits extension bill to a vote in the House, May 26, 2014
Sen. Rob Portman revealed to the press that he did not speak to fellow Ohio representative Speaker of the House John Boehner to encourage him to put the unemployment benefits extension bill to a vote in the House, May 26, 2014
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Many within the Senate believed that Sen. Rob Portman, R-OH, one of the Republican sponsors of the unemployment extension bill would try to negotiate and influence fellow Republican and Ohio Congressional Representative, Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH, however, he revealed on Monday, May 26, 2014 to Gannett that he never even made an attempt to. Now that the Senate passed bill, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014 will expire in the next few days on May 31, 2014, Americans know that lawmakers did not try everything possible to extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program. The EUC program expired five months ago on Dec. 28, 2013 and so far 2.8 million long-term jobless Americans have lost benefits since then.

Sen. Portman revealed in an interview with Gannett that appeared in the Lancaster Eagle Gazette that he ultimately decided against approaching Boehner at all about the unemployment extension bill. According to Portman he decided against pressuring Boehner, because "it wouldn't have been a productive move." Sen. Portman explained the rationale behind the decision; "He's hearing it from all sides within his own conference, which he has to keep together. And that's got to be his priority." The speaker barely ever goes against the majority opinion, and put to a vote a bill that does have not enough Republican support to pass.

Speaker of the House Boehner remains insistent that any unemployment benefits bill put to a vote must include job creation measures. Boehner has been requesting a direct response from the White House, and a list of measures approved by the White House and President Barack Obama. The president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV are only open to Democratic favored provisions being added. The speaker also has reservations about the states implementing the retroactive benefits; he considers the bill as "unworkable" because he believes the states have not kept up verified the long-term jobless' eligibility.

Senator Portman's state of Ohio has a high level of long-term jobless, who have been unemployed for over six months, and has taken a major role in the unemployment benefits extension. Portman has been a key player in the bill's passage; he blocked the first Senate deal in February, because the bill was not paid for through revenue. Then Portman was one of the five Republicans who sponsored and then voted for the bipartisan Senate bill written and co-sponsored by Senators Jack Reed, D-RI and Dean Heller, R-NV. The unemployment benefits bill was a five month extension, costing $10 billion all paid for through revenue.

A few days after the Senate had passed the unemployment benefits extension bill on Monday April 7, 2014, Sen. Heller told Congressional Quarterly's Roll Call that he thought Portman could influence Boehner's ultimate decision putting the Reed-Heller bill to a House vote, despite his initial reservations and opposition. Sen. Heller believed Sen. Portman's strong support for the bill will persuade Boehner that he needs to take action on the bill, because they are both Republicans from the same state, Ohio. At that time Heller stated; "I think with Portman's support on the legislation, that is good for Ohio, and the speaker being from Ohio, maybe that sends a message there also."

Another Republican Ohio Representative, Steve Chabot, R-OH, however, did not think Boehner would be influenced by Sen. Rob Portman, R-OH staunch support for the bill, stating in an interview; "I don't anticipate that there's going to be a lot of support amongst most members in the House as far as doing anything about the unemployment insurance, unless we're assured that it actually is going to create jobs. On its own, I don't think it does that." Rep. Chabot had been considering voting for the bill if it included a provision authorizing the Keystone Pipeline.

Portman is not the only lawmaker to refuse to approach Boehner and try to convince him to pass the unemployment extension bill, President Obama has not personally phoned the speaker in the nearly two months since the Senate passed the bill. The president has urged the speaker and the House to pass the bill briefly in some speeches and remarks and Twitter, has sent Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez to negotiate and relayed messages through the White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, but he will not use the power of the presidency to persuade Boehner to put the bill to a vote. Last week on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 when confronted by Roll Call at the daily press briefing Carney dismissed the possible difference the president could make, saying; "I think it's a novel supposition that Speaker Boehner would suddenly embrace the idea of extended unemployment insurance if the president would just call him and ask for it."

Maybe however, Carney was right Sen. Portman as a fellow Republican from the same state as Boehner, could have had more sway on Boehner than the president, who has had a tense relationship with the speaker since the Republicans gained controlled of the House in the 2010 midterm elections. However, Portman and Boehner broke ranks when the Senator decided to support the bill, without any job creating measures included. At this point with just two days left, before the bill's expiration, the House does not intend to vote on Senate's Heller-Reed bill. Despite support from some Republicans, who expressed interest in adding provisions to make the bill more desirable to the Republican majority, there was never enough support for the unemployment benefits extension to force a vote. The Republicans in general view the benefits as deterrent for the long-term jobless to go out and find a job.

Hope now rests with Sens. Reed and Heller who have promised to do anything they can to extend benefits and already started working on a new bill. Part of their plan is to attach the unemployment benefits extension as an amendment to a Senate bill with bipartisan support the main contenders are the business tax cuts extenders "S.2260 - EXPIRE Act of 2014" and the transportation bill S.2322: MAP-21 Reauthorization Act, both bills will have to be passed in the near future and are issues that have bipartisan support in both Houses. Heller and Reed would have liked to have added the extension to the Senate's jobs training bill "the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (PL 105-220)," but the sponsors already refused to add it as an amendment. The Senate remains on a two-week recess until June 5, then as they pledged Reed and Heller and going to make sure benefits are extended this summer hopefully and possibly for a year.


  • S.2260 - EXPIRE Act of 2014, Sen. Wyden, Ron [D-OR] (Introduced 04/28/2014), 05/07/2014 Motion to proceed to consideration of measure made in Senate. S. Rept. 113-154

Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.

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