Congressional Democrats are stepping up their pressure on the Republican controlled House of Representatives to pass the Senate's unemployment benefits extension bill. On Tuesday, May 6, 2014 a Democratic committee meeting turned into a press conference on the Capitol's steps after the Republicans refused to let the Democrats use the room to discuss the unemployment benefits extension bill. The Democrats had invited seven Americas affected by the expiring of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program. They recounted their personal stories at the press conference on the Capitol's steps. Congressional Quarterly's Roll Call described the press conference as "designed to paint Republicans as heartless." Nearly 3 million long-term jobless have been left without any benefits since Dec. 28, 2013 when Congress let the program expire.
The press conference was held on the Capitol building's steps at 2:30 p.m. Democrats in the Education and the Workforce Committee, and headed by both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md. The press conference was also attended by some House Democrats and the seven Americans invited to recount the problems and hardships they have experience since the EUC expired in December. The Democrats looked to include heart wrenching stories, which also proved to the reluctant Republicans that the long-term jobless do not want to live off the government, but desperately want a job. One by one the seven long-term jobless spoke on the Capitol steps.
At the press conference Pelosi introduced the event to the media, in her brief remarks she chastised the House Republicans for not allowing the Democrats to have their meeting, saying it was because of the topic, the unemployment benefits extension. Pelosi said; "We invited you to a room in the Rayburn building. This morning, the Republican majority told us that, for the purpose of talking about unemployment insurance extension, we no longer had access to the room. Perhaps they thought we would cancel the meeting. Instead we have taken to the steps of the Capitol."
Pelosi continued her attacks on the Republicans for ignoring the unemployment benefits extension bill; "The purpose of that meeting was to listen - to listen to these voices, voices to whom the Republicans have turned a deaf ear. They are invisible to the Republicans. The Republicans are indifferent to their needs. But we want to give voice to them. We thought it would be in the Rayburn Building. It is now on the steps of the Capitol." Pelosi emphasized the room change as symbolic for their disregard for long-term jobless Americans.
Pelosi continued by emphasizing that those anecdotes represented the nearly three million affected by the EUC programs' expiration. "The voices that we have heard this afternoon represent hundreds of thousands, indeed, millions of Americans who are in a similar situation. Unfortunately, our Republican colleagues in the Congress are in denial about this situation." Pelosi urged Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH to put the bill to a vote because she believes it would pass. Pelosi expressed; "When I asked them: 'Why don't you give us a vote? Because the votes are there to pass the extension of unemployment benefits…'" Pelosi and the Democrats were pursuing a discharge petition to force the bill to a House vote, but actually need 30 Republicans to sign and support it, which they do not have, despite pressuring and challenging them to sign on.
Pelosi added that the seven long-term jobless Americans who recounted their stories are hard working Americans, who want to work, not receive a government hand out like the GOP accuses. Pelosi explained; "…They say: 'These people are not looking for work. So we're not going to give them this extension.' They are in denial. In fact, they don't even want to hear the truth. Pelosi concluded emphasizing the House Republicans' opposition to passing the bill proven by not allowing them to use the meeting room; "That's why they kicked us out of the Rayburn [Building] and wouldn't let these stories be told, in the people's House on Capitol Hill.
Minority Whip Hoyer, who actively pressured the GOP on extending unemployment benefits also spoke at the press conference; "They cut us off. They tried to silence the voices of those who are in deep pain because of Republican failure, because of Republicans ignoring the pain of so many people in America."
The Democrats were supposed to have a "Democratic Steering and Policy hearing" on Tuesday morning, May 6 on the unemployment extension, where affected Americans were supposed to testify. The Republicans were fine with the meeting when the Democrats were intending just to hold a meeting without the presence of the press. George Miller, D-CA the Education and the Workforce Committee Ranking Democratic member asked for to use the room for the meeting, the request form expressed that "Mr. Miller would like to hold a Members meeting," and checked off that there would be no media presence.
The problems began when the Democrats however, later announced that the press was welcome to attend the hearing. The Republicans wanted the Democrats to according to what Education and the Workforce Committee spokesperson Alexandra Sollberger informed CQ Roll Call. Sollberger clarified the Republicans did not "deny" Democrats "request to hold an event." The GOP just wanted the Democrats to ask for permission for media inclusion. Sollberger said; "In fact, we have communicated to Democrat staff that we are more than willing to accommodate the event they now wish to hold - all they have to do is ask."
The Republicans accused the Democrats of manipulating the situation as a midterm campaign stunt. Sollberger explained to Roll Call that the Democrats were being "petty" and accused them of "partisan political shenanigans at its best." Speaker of the House John Boehner's, R-OH spokesman commented that the Democrats were making a "faux outrage." The Democrats have been trying to portray themselves as the caring and concerned party, looking out the lower income and middle class Americans, while making it seem that the Republicans are "heartless" looking out only for the interests of rich, wealthy and corporate America at the expense of America's middle class.
Minority Leader Pelosi's spokesman Drew Hammill explained the situation from the Democratic perspective, saying; the Republicans "changed course so late in the day that it was logistically impossible to move the event back to the Rayburn office building. I think silencing seven people who came to testify about the plight of the unemployed is shameful." Pelosi's spokesman tried to portray the room situation as entirely because the hearing was to include personal stories, when Republicans were having a problem, because the Democrats wanted to create a media circus from the hearing.
Pelosi's office issues a press release announcing the change of venue for the meeting which read; "Please be advised that due to House Republicans kicking House Democrats out of a room that was scheduled for today's Steering and Policy hearing on the GOP's failure to extend UI, we're now holding a press conference in lieu of the hearing that will take place on the House East Front Steps."
This not the first time the Democrats have used personal anecdotes of those affect in the campaign assault to pressure the GOP and Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH to put the bill to a vote. The Ranking Democratic Member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee Sander Levin, D-MI sent Boehner a letter on Tuesday, April 29, 2014 letter featured over 50 personal anecdotes submitted and chosen to be included "describe how getting cut off of benefits has affected them." Rep. Levin wanted to put a personal face on the Americans the House would be helping if they pass the unemployment benefits extension, and show that these were hardworking Americans
Democrats in both the House and Senate have been keeping the pressure on the Republicans. On April 17, 2014 House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi attacked the GOP in a letter stating that "House Republicans' refusal to extend emergency unemployment insurance is callous, shortsighted and immoral." While on Tuesday, April 15, 2014Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.VA circulated an email petition.
So far guilt tripping the GOP has not been successful. The Republicans do not seem to take too well to President Barack Obama or the Democrats in Congress try to force them into passing legislation by public shaming them. In fact in the recent past, it has been counterproductive the most recent case points have been the Senate failing to advance bill for equal work, equal pay and raising the minimum wage because of Republican opposition.
As it reaches the month mark since the Senate passed the unemployment benefits extension bill President Obama has resumed taking a more vocal and active role in the unemployment benefits extension debate, and Congressional Democrats have increased the pressure. The Senate finally reached a bipartisan compromise on to extend the EUC program in March, and passed the bill on April 7, 2014. The retroactive five-month extension laid out in the Senate bill lasts until June 1, 2014.
This leaves very little time for the House of Representatives to pass the unemployment benefits extension as the Senate bill expires in the end of May. Should it expire the bill's authors Senators Dean Heller, R-NV and Jack Reed, D-RI have promised to go back and start the process over and write another bill, but with every long delay, and as time goes further away from the Dec. 28 expiration, and closer to the midterm elections, the probability of passing the bill gets slimmer.
At this point Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH refuses to put the bill, because it does not include job creation measures, although the cost of the $10 billion bill is entirely paid for with revenue and does not add to the deficit. The speaker has been pushing for the White House to provide him a list of acceptable provisions to be added to the bill. President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry, Reid, D-NV do not want any provisions added to the unemployment extension bill, they prefer it passes as it is. Obama and Reid's objection has prevented Boehner from negotiating with Sen. Heller.
Meanwhile House Republicans have expressed interest in passing the bill, but most of them want to add Republican favored provisions including the job creation measure that would appeal to Boehner and convince him to put the bill to a House vote. Among the provisions being considered are a business tax provision and passing the XL Keystone Pipeline along with modifying two elements of the health care law. The most popular provision is adding a job training programs restructure bill.
The unemployment benefits extension bill is left in a standstill between Republicans who want provisions and the Democrats who refuse to let any be added. The midterm partisan battles between Democrats and Republicans left three million Americans abandoned. Meanwhile since the EUC program expired on Dec. 28, 2013 nearly 3 million Americans lost access to benefits, and each week about 70,000 Americans keep losing benefits. It is projected that by the end of the year 1.6 million more Americans will lose benefits.
The new April jobs report released on May 2, 2014 makes it even more complicated to convince reluctant Republicans to pass the unemployment benefits extension. The unemployment rate is now 6.3 percent, and according to USA Today the long-term unemployment rate also fell, with 287,000 less Americans unemployed for longer than six months. Now the total stands at 3.5 million Americans or 35.5 percent all unemployed Americans. If the House does not move on the unemployment extension bill until the end of the month, the Senate is going to have to start all over again and the chances of the EUC program being extended diminishes leaving three million Americans with the help they need to survive until they finally find a job.
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. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.