WASHINGTON -- Congressional Democrats are going to be spending a lot of time hounding House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) about unemployment insurance.
The Senate approved legislation on Monday that would restore benefits to the 2 million long-term jobless Americans who have not received checks since Congress let federal unemployment insurance lapse in December. Boehner doesn't like the Senate bill and House Democrats have no way to force a vote in the lower chamber, but they sure can make noise about it.
To that end, a dozen Democrats staged a press conference outside the Capitol on Tuesday, calling on Boehner to bring the Senate bill to the House floor for a vote.
"Today over 2 million unemployed Americans are hearing from the Republicans in United States Congress, 'You are on your own,'" Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said at the press conference. "It is past time to act but it is never too late to do the right thing."
Several unemployed people whose benefits had been cut off joined the event. Charece Peterson came from Philadelphia with a sign that said, "I am selling my clothes to survive!" It was her second trip to Washington since benefits lapsed in December. The Philadelphia Unemployment Project, a group that advocates for jobless workers, helped coordinate her visit.
Peterson, 38, told HuffPost she lost her nursing job last February and has only received one job offer since then -- for a home health care position paying less than the minimum wage. Unemployment, she said, has been demoralizing. "You don't even want to get up in the morning," she said.
Kimberly Everett, 53, also said her job search had been miserable. "I have not been passive or lazy in my search for employment," she said. "Interviews and return calls have been nonexistent."
Everett said that since her layoff late in 2012, she's drained her savings and her retirement accounts, and used her car as collateral for a high-interest loan. Joblessness "chipped away at emotional stability," she said.
Before a bipartisan group of senators had struck a deal to reauthorize the benefits, Democrats' strategy had been to relentlessly badger Republicans by holding press conferences and pointing to stories about unemployed people in local newspapers around the country. It seemed like the Senate would never act, but this week it did.
"Months ago many thought we would not have a bill," Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said. "We came together to pass bipartisan, fiscally responsible legislation that will restore benefits to more than 2 million Americans."
The Senate bill would retroactively pay workers like Everett and Peterson for benefits they've missed since December. The legislation would keep the benefits in place only through May, however.
Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), the top Democrat on the House committee overseeing unemployment, said Democrats would keep up the pressure. "There will be more and more stories like this," he said.