By Mike Lillis - 03/12/14 02:38 PM EDT
House Democratic leaders on Wednesday moved to force a vote extending unemployment benefits.
Republican leaders have refused to consider legislation renewing the benefits program for the long-term unemployed, which expired at the end of December, leading Democrats to introduce a discharge petition designed to force the bill to the House floor.
But, combined with a similar effort surrounding legislation to raise the minimum wage, the petition is aimed at highlighting the stark differences between each party's approach to helping the working class in the wake of the Great Recession — a message the Democrats are hoping will help them with voters in November's midterm elections.
Unveiling the petition in the Capitol Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said support for the document would "be a signal to the people out there who are suffering" amid the ongoing jobs crisis.
"When they put their name down on this discharge petition, it will be a signature of hope to all the people out there who are looking to this Congress to do the right thing," Pelosi said. "Do the right thing, Mr. Speaker. Give us a vote."
Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), head of the House Democratic Caucus, acknowledged that the effort is largely one of political messaging.
"A discharge petition will prove who really wants to help the American people," Becerra said.
An estimated 2 million long-term unemployed workers have lost their federal employment benefits since the program expired on Dec. 28, after Republicans rejected proposals from President Obama and the Democrats to extend the benefits as part of December's bipartisan budget agreement.
The Democrats argue the extension would not only help those who lost a job in the recession but would also boost the economy as beneficiaries spend their benefits checks on consumables. Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) said Wednesday that the expiration of the program cost the economy $3 billion in January and February.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he's open to an extension of the benefits, as long as the costs are offset and the proposal is accompanied by unnamed economic provisions. But he's shown little enthusiasm for an unemployment extension that's anathema to conservative Republicans, who say the additional help discourages the long-term unemployed from seeking work at all.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, have also tried to pressure Boehner by moving an unemployment benefits extension of their own. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has so far been unable to rally the 60 votes needed to defeat a Republican filibuster and send such a measure to the House.
House Democrats, for their part, say the extension has enough Republican support to pass through the lower chamber — if only GOP leaders would allow a vote.
"Our constituents deserve better; they deserve a vote," said Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), the lead sponsor of the petition.