WASHINGTON (UPI) — Capitol Hill is a pretty big place, but the Republican majority can’t seem to find room to listen to ordinary Americans.
At least, that’s how Democrats are framing a spat that began Tuesday morning, when a planned Democratic Steering and Policy hearing where several long-term unemployed people were scheduled to speak was canceled by Republicans who said the room in the Rayburn House building wasn’t being used properly.
Instead, Democrats gathered on the steps of the House, flanked by people whose stories of desperation were perfectly primed to position the unbending GOP as heartless and cruel.
“We’re raising awareness about an issue today that has adversely impacted over 2.5 million Americans, just a few of whom wanted to speak today in their Capitol,” said Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland. “They tried to silence the voices of those who are in deep pain because of Republican failures, Republican ignoring the pain of so many people in America.”
Cancellation of the meeting appears to have been over a discrepancy in how the request for a room was filed. Representative George Miller (D-Calif.) filed the committee room request as a “members meeting,” and marked “no” in the box asking if media would be present.
But when Republicans learned Democrats had issued press releases welcoming reporters and cameras, they canceled the event. Aides for both Republicans and Democrats acknowledged that the GOP staff called to say it would allow the meeting to go forward, but it was too late.
“They changed course so late in the day that it was logistically impossible to move the event back to the Rayburn office building,” said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. “I think silencing seven people who came to testify about the plight of the unemployed is shameful.”
But even if the Democrats had kicked up “faux outrage,” as a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner called it, they were more than eager to hold up the day’s events as yet another election-year example of Republican’s inability to empathize with struggling Americans.
“[Republicans] say these people are not looking for work,” Pelosi charged. “They’re in denial. They do not want to hear the truth.”
Democrats and some Senate Republicans are ramping up pressure on House leadership to bring up for a vote a measure that passed early last month in the Senate. The Senate measure extends emergency unemployment compensation through the end of May for people who have been out of work for more than six months and would pay benefits retroactively for those receiving benefits when they expired in December.
The so-called Reed-Heller Amendment, referring to the bipartisan duo of Senators who hammered out the deal, would also pay out benefits to anyone who has qualified for them since December — some 72,000 per week, Hoyer estimated.