The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Unemployment insurance looks dead in the House. Here’s how Democrats are trying to change that.

Later today, the Senate will vote along party lines to pass an extension to federally provided long-term unemployment benefits -- legislation that, once it's passed, will have taken four Senate votes to get passed.

While Democrats will trumpet this evening's Senate vote as a triumph, the legislation seems to face an implausible pathway to becoming law once it is sent to the House.

Republican House leadership has repeatedly stated their opposition to the Senate-passed bill, noting that they do not want to bring any unemployment legislation to the floor for a vote unless it includes job-creation provisions.

But Democratic House members and their aides insist they won't go down without a fight.

As the legislation now moves to the lower chamber, here's how Democrats plan to force the issue:

Targeting moderate House Republicans 

Last week, the Post surveyed House Republican lawmakers who represent eight states with an unemployment rate above the national average and hail from the same eight states as the 10 senators cosponsoring the Senate bill.

While many of the House members seemed bullish on their chances of supporting the legislation, Democratic aides say they were encouraged by some of the responses. Some members who they believed would not support the legislation, seemed to be open to the idea.

The starting point for Democrats is re-enlisting the support of a group of moderate Republicans -- Reps. Joe Heck (R-Nevada), Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.), David Joyce (R-Ohio), Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Jon Runyan (R-N.J.). -- who in December signed a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner asking the Republican House leadership to consider a temporary extension to the unemployment benefits.

House Democrats and Republican allies have also begun wearing stickers that include the number of long-term unemployed in their state while in the Capitol Building - as part of the legislation's public relation's push.House aides say another, similar letter is currently in the works, an effort led by Rep. LoBiondo, and that the new letter could include new co-signers.

Stress the anecdotes 

Under the federal unemployment system, someone who loses a job typically receives unemployment benefits from the state for 26 weeks. But in 2008,  Congress voted to provide additional aid that made checks available for as long as 99 weeks in the hardest-hit states. Last year, lawmakers cut the maximum benefit to 73 weeks. Then, at the end of December, Congress let federal aid lapse altogether.

That cut aid to 1 million people en masse in December, and the ranks of those no longer receiving benefits has been growing by about 72,000 a week, according to the National Employment Law Project, which lobbies on behalf of the jobless.

"The more that the members of the House hear the stories of the long-term unemployed, that will move people," said Rep. Sandy Levin, (D-Mich), who is the leading the unemployment extension push in the House. "

Levin and other House Democrats say they will stress specific anecdotes, employing the long-used method of putting an anecdotal face and name to policy initiatives.

"We’re going to use (real people) to demonstrate that the 2 million plus are like us from all walks of life, many with very different work experiences but something in common: they’ve all been laid off with no fault of their own," Levin said.

Right now, however, those moderate Republicans who will be crucial to creating political pressure within the Republican House caucus to get a deal done, say they aren't feeling pressure from their consistence.

“This just isn’t what we’re hearing about when we’re back in the district,” said an aide to Republican House member in a high-unemployment state last week. “We’re hearing about Obamacare, and certainly about jobs, but not about the need to extend unemployment benefits.”

Regional media

Expect to see tons of newspaper and local TV news coverage -- especially in states like Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, and Rhode Island -- of the House-pending unemployment extension bill.

Help from the executive branch

One of the major variables that remains to be seen is what, if any, political capital President Obama and other members of the executive branch are willing to devote to getting unemployment insurance extension passed in the House.

Were Obama to commit to pressing the issue -- perhaps through a series of speeches like the ones he has given around the country in recent weeks about minimum wage legislation -- it could serve as a way to ramp up pressure on House Republicans, especially those facing re-election in high-unemployment states.

Republican aides agree that an aggressive campaign on behalf of the White House has the potentially to drastically change the dynamic of the future of this legislation.

Democratic aides say that the executive branch could force the issue even if the president doesn't buy in completely. They say that a series of speeches from top Obama administration officials about employment, the economy, and a need to strengthen the social safety net could be enough to do it.

They point to a speech delivered last month by Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen in Chicago as the kind of thing they're looking for in terms of help from high profile Democrats outside of the legislature.

Appeal to the leadership

"I've told my staff: Get me a meeting with Speaker Boehner and lets see what we can do to motivate them to move this legislation," declared Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who helped broker the Senate deal, last week after the Senate bill passed a legislative hurdle last week.

But it seems unlikely that any number of meetings with move top House Republicans, specifically Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) who has consistently panned the Senate employment bill.

Aides to top Republican House members have described the timing of the Senate compromise as politically opportunistic.

House leadership aides say there remains a chance that the House will, eventually, act on the legislation. However, they suggest that the House is unlikely to pass the Senate bill as-is, and would be much more likely to pass their own version -- heavy on job creation provisions or other Republican-supported policy items (like an appeal of the Affordable Care Act's medical device tax) -- and then send it back to the Senate.

Or, the House Republican leadership could take up a bill like the one proposed by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), which would link the unemployment insurance extension to 40-hour-work week, Keystone pipeline, and medical device tax measures.

"These are all proposals that there is Democratic support for," Dent said in an interview late last week. He added, however, that he has not gotten any commitment from the House leadership.

"I believe they are interested in my proposal... but they have not dismissed my proposal nor have they endorsed it," Dent said. "I believe that the proposal that I’ve offered is a reasonable path forward, Republicans could celebrate the policies if enacted and the Democrats could celebrate the extension of the emergency unemployment benefits."

Democratic operatives insist that a pathway forward may lie in partnerships with Reps. Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan, both of whom have previously made personal priorities of including policy proposals that would target the unemployed and underemployed as part of efforts to combat poverty.

So what's gonna happen? 

The conventional wisdom and political dynamics still seem to indicate a massive, uphill battle for Democrats to get the unemployment benefits extension passed through the Republican-controlled House.

But, if they're able to mobilize the residents of districts of vulnerable Republicans, House Democrats still do have a chance.