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Tier 5: How Far Can The Lobbying Power Of The Unemployed Go?

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The pleas of hundreds of thousands of the long-term jobless were answered this week when a dozen Senate Democrats cosponsored a bill to provide additional weeks of unemployment insurance.

But given the incredible difficulty that Democrats faced breaking a GOP filibuster just to reauthorize the existing extended benefits, how do Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and her cosponsors expect the bill to pass?

"I think when it comes down to it, it's going to rely on people like myself contacting their local representatives," said Jeff Lawson of Fresno, Calif., who told HuffPost he lost his job as a business consultant in 2008 and has since exhausted 99 weeks of benefits. "It's going to require forcing some of the moderate Republicans taking a stand against their own unemployed constituents in their own states."

The extended unemployment benefits that Congress reauthorized in July provide the unemployed up to 99 weeks of benefits in some states. Congress always gives the unemployed extra weeks of benefits during recessions, but in the worst recession since the Great Depression, an unprecedented 99 weeks of help still isn't enough for some. It's been estimated that as many as 1.4 million people have exhausted all four "tiers" of federal benefits. There are nearly 15 million people clamoring for just three million available jobs.

Some of the "99ers," as they've become known, organized online and coordinated lobbying efforts, which have resulted in phone calls, faxes, and even a petition delivery to Capitol Hill. Lawson said he made several calls himself, and had been assured by staffers over the previous months that "they weren't going to forget the 99ers." They didn't.

"Their lobbying efforts of member offices certainly making an emotional impact, particularly on the staffers working on those issues who talk to their bosses about them," said one Senate Democratic aide. "People power does still exist -- particularly when it's tireless and unrelenting."

But Stabenow's bill, which would provide tax credits another 20 weeks of benefits in states with unemployment above 7.5 percent, faces incredibly tough sledding in the Senate. Democrats there struggled for nearly two months to reauthorize benefits, with Republicans and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson insisting that the measure not add a dime to the deficit even as 2.5 million people missed checks. The soonest this bill could possibly come to the Senate floor, if it ever does, is September.

Democratic strategists outside Congress said it's a no-brainer to push the bill, even if it fails to get anywhere.

"What's the alternative to trying to extend unemployment insurance? Give up and turn your back on the American people?" said Todd Webster, founding partner of the WebStrong Group and a former spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who noted that the bill gives small businesses incentive to hire layoff victims. "On the politics of it, the messaging of it, and the policy of it, it is sound legislation."

Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, a former adviser to Virginia Democrats Mark Warner and Jim Webb, agreed.

"I think the politics of it is magnificent. All over the country, the working people have been screwed by our government, so the least they can do is put a few beans on the table," Saunders told HuffPost. "If you look throughout the south, the manufacturing south, we ain't making shit anymore. The proof is in the pudding: The damn Mexicans are swimming across the river. Pretty soon the hillbillies are gonna swim across the river to Mexico."

Paul Brogan, who told HuffPost he received his final unemployment check in April, said he appreciated the bill even though it's a long shot and it wouldn't help him -- he lives in Portsmouth, N.H., where the unemployment rate is far below 7.5 percent.

"I don't think it will pass, because with the election coming up it's going to be painted as something else that's going to increase the deficit, and it will be presented in such a way by Republicans and even some Democrats as a horrible, awful thing because these people are so lazy if they can't get a job in nearly two years," said Brogan, 59, a laid-off grantwriter.

"Even the fact that they're willing to try this will help some people psychologically feel they're not alone, that somebody actually gives a damn."

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