House Democrats are trying to force a vote on extending emergency unemployment benefits by means familiar to viewers of Legally Blonde 2: a discharge petition. That requires the support of 218 members of the House, a level Democrats are extremely unlikely to achieve. But with John Boehner controlling what gets a House vote by any other means, a discharge petition both has as much chance of working as anything, and serves to build pressure on Republicans—massive pressure being the only way Boehner will ever allow an unemployment aid extension vote.
Discharge petitions rarely get the 218 votes needed to force a vote on the House floor. Since 1931, when the maneuver took its current form, 563 discharge petitions have been filed but only 47 received 218 signatures, according to the Congressional Research Service. Over the past 30 years, seven petitions have made it to the signature threshold, and all of them received floor votes.Emergency unemployment insurance for those who've been jobless for six months or longer expired on December 28; by now, two million people have lost the benefits they relied on. Senate Republicans have repeatedly blocked aid bills, claiming first that they wanted a pay-for, then that they ... wanted a different pay-for than Democrats had found. They've also raised repeated procedural objections, as if voters will be sympathetic over how many poison-pill amendments Republicans are or are not allowed to propose to delay and water down an unemployment benefits extension that should be absolutely routine and nonpartisan. Meanwhile, of course, the House speaker simply won't consider a vote on the issue at all. That's today's Republican Party for you.
But even if they don't expect to get 218 signatures, proponents argue that circulating discharge petitions can up the pressure. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said as much last week when talking about plans to file a discharge petition for a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
"We'll never get the 218 on the [immigration] discharge petition ... because the Republicans will generally not sign," she said in an interview on SiriusXM. "But the fact that it is there and the outside mobilization is saying, 'All we want is a vote' -- either sign the petition, which enables us to get a vote, or urge the speaker to give us a vote."