Unemployment Extension Fight Pits Portman Against Boehner

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The fight for a bipartisan unemployment benefits extension bill is pitting two powerful, prominent Ohio Republicans — Speaker John A. Boehner and Sen. Rob Portman — against each other, but the two men haven't yet spoken about it.  

"I haven't talked to him," Portman told CQ Roll Call Monday evening. "I did have my folks reach out to the Ohio state agency that handles this issue, and we want to make sure that … it can be done and be done smoothly, and so we're working to be able to address any concerns that he has, but I haven't talked to him directly about it." Boehner ripped the bill as unworkable last week , citing concerns expressed by the National Association of State Workforce Agencies that it would be difficult to implement in its current form and would potentially result in months of delays. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez weighed in late last week, saying that he was confident the bill could be implemented . And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday he wants to pass the bill this week.  

Portman said he would vote against a filibuster when Reid calls the bill up. He is one of five GOP senators to sign on to the deal, potentially making him the key 60th vote.  

"We of course would want to work with all of the states to ensure that they could implement it properly," Portman said.  

As for the question of whether the House would call up the measure?  

"That's up to them. That's up to the House," Portman said. "You know, I got involved in this because I believe that the current unemployment system does not work to provide the tools to people who are long-term unemployed. I'm very concerned about the numbers of long-term unemployed, and the poor prospects they have right now for getting a job."  

Portman said his interest is "not to provide an extension alone, but it's to ensure that we … reform the system, and there's some reforms in the legislation that I signed off on, and then there is a promise of additional work to reform during this interim period to try to add more skills training, to try to do the things that are creative to get people to work.  

"The notion is to lower the barriers to hiring these folks," Portman said. "I want to work with both sides to make that happen.  

"I do want to work with the House, and maybe they have some better ideas," he added.  

Reid said he may keep the Senate in through the weekend to ensure the chamber acts.