A 2014 extension of unemployment benefits, an issue that now affects almost 3 million people nationwide with thousands more losing unemployment benefits every week, has become such political poison for House Republicans that on Tuesday, they squelched an attempt by Democrats to hold a hearing where six long-term unemployed Americans were set to tell their personal stories.
Unemployment benefits were suddenly ended in late December of last year. Democrats planned to push for an unemployment extension in 2014 and the Senate recently passed a bipartisan bill to extend benefits to the end of May, retroactive to December. But House Republican Speaker John Boehner has refused to let the House vote on the bill.
The lack of an unemployment extension has also cost the U.S. economy $3 billion in January and February of 2014 alone.
The April unemployment statistics showed that people are dropping out of the workforce at the highest rate in 30 years, fulfilling warnings that the lack of an unemployment extension in 2014 would cause job seekers to become discouraged and simply give up. Job seekers collecting unemployment benefits are required to report the progress of their job search.
The data appeared to contradict assertions by many Republicans, such as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, that receiving unemployment causes individuals to become lazy in looking for jobs, and that denying an unemployment extension would provide a jolt that would force the long term unemployed back into the workforce.
But the opposite has occurred based on the recent data. And it is the stories of some of those long term unemployed — that is, people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own and have been out of work for six months or more — that House Democrats planned to air at a scheduled hearing Tuesday.
But shortly before the hearing, of the Democratic Steering an Policy Committee, the Republican House leadership kicked them out of the hearing room they had earlier booked, forcing the Democrats — who had already been forced to change the announced location of the unemployment extension hearing several times over the past week — to move outdoors and stage what was supposed to be a hearing instead as an open-air press conference.
Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi blasted the House GOP at the outdoor event.
"[Republicans have] said 'These people are not looking for work, so we're not going to give them this extension.' They are in denial," she said. "In fact they don't even want to hear the truth. That's why they kicked us out of the Rayburn room and wouldn't let these stories be told, in the people's house, on Capitol Hill."
Republicans later claimed that the move was not related to debate over a 2014 unemployment extension, but instead was the Democrats' own fault due to a paperwork error in booking the hearing room.