Washington (CNN) – Nearly three months after extended unemployment benefits expired, Democrats tried to ratchet up pressure on the issue with dozens of lawmaker signatures and a line of Congressmen marching together into the House Chamber.
“Do the right thing, Mr. Speaker: give us a vote,” Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California told reporters Wednesday, as she and dozens of her party members prepared to file a discharge petition in the House, aimed at forcing a House vote on an unemployment insurance extension.
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Despite the intentionally strong visuals of Democrats filing into their chamber en masse, their move was largely symbolic and is not expected to break the logjam on the issue.
To trigger a vote, discharge petitions must be signed by an absolute majority of the House of Representatives. That is 218 members currently. But Democrats have just 199 in their caucus. The move is more of a way for Democrats to continue raising the issue and accusing Republicans of inaction in a high-stakes midterm election year.
Republicans have expressed doubts about whether unemployment insurance encourages people to stay out of the workforce, but their main objection to extending benefits has been the funding. House Speaker John Boehner has consistently said any unemployment extension must “be paid for” with spending cuts. In the Senate, negotiations are similarly stymied over how to pay for an extension despite participation from key members in both parties.
Democrats contend that unemployment benefits help the economy because the unemployed are likely to spend the money immediately. But their main charge this year has been emotional, pointing to real-world stories of struggle.
At Wednesday’s event, 82-year-old Rep. Sander Levin, D-Michigan, slowly twisted off his own wedding ring as he read a Craigslist ad from someone who was selling their own wedding and engagement rings last week. His staff said that the ad clearly listed expiring unemployment benefits as the reason. (The link to the ad had expired when CNN checked.)
“We need to act,” he said.