Democrats brought seven unemployed people to the Capitol steps Tuesday to tell their stories in a deeply emotional — and deeply political — news conference designed to paint Republicans as heartless for not allowing a vote on an extension of emergency unemployment insurance benefits.
The people hosted by the Democrats — hailing from Baltimore to Lorraine, Ohio — one-by-one told their story about losing their jobs and about applying for work hundreds of times, only to not hear back. They described watching their unemployment benefits, benefits they need to pay their mortgages and make ends meet, disappear.
“You have no idea how soul crushing it is to have your daughter tell you she’s a burden,” one unemployed man, Kevin McCarthy of Boonsboro, Md., said from the lectern in tears.
Lettice Brown, from Fort Washington, Md., worked as a geographic information systems technician with a contractor for the Census Bureau for six years. She was happy and she loved her work.
Less than two weeks after moving in with her boyfriend, and one week after her 30th birthday, Brown was laid off along with half of her office, after the contractor had to cut back under budget pressure from the sequester.
"I have never been unemployed before, and believe me, if you haven't been unemployed, you have no idea what it's like," Brown said.
She lost her unemployment insurance in March, and without the federal aid, she's going into credit card debt to keep up with rent and car payments — with no end in sight.
Helene Laurusavage from Sanatoga, Pa., told her story of being laid off last spring from her longtime job as an environmental health and safety officer when her company was outsourced. Despite a competitive résumé — Laurusavage has years of experience, a degree in physics and is an Air Force veteran — she can't find work. She gets calls back, but she hasn't landed a job, even though she has sent out 229 applications for specific job postings and has had 26 interviews. Her unemployment benefits ran out at the end of December, at the same time Congress allowed the program to expire.
"I was appalled at the time to see your attempts to renew federal jobless aid callously dismissed and rejected," Laurusavage said.
The lawmakers themselves focused on theatrics related to where the event was staged , after an earlier spat with Republicans transformed the affair from a hearing into an outdoor news conference.
“We invited you to a room in the Rayburn building,"Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said. "This morning, the Republican majority told us that, for the purpose of talking about unemployment insurance extension, we no longer had access to the room. Perhaps they thought we would cancel the meeting. Instead we have taken to the steps of the Capitol.”
Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said there was a room available for the unemployed Americans to come to the Capitol — “their Capitol!” he shouted — and tell their story.
“They cut us off,” Hoyer said. “They tried to silence the voices of those who are in deep pain because of Republican failure, because of Republicans ignoring the pain of so many people in America.”
Laurusavage said from the lectern that the Senate's bipartisan passage of a short-term extension was a ray of hope, but that her hope has diminished as House Republicans oppose the legislation and refuse to take up the bill. Pelosi said Tuesday that "the votes are there" to pass the Senate's extension.
Democrats continue to hammer Republicans on the issue. And, if the spat over meeting rooms is any indicator, neither side seems to be speaking the other’s language.
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