WASHINGTON—Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. by his side, took the lead Wednesday of a long-shot petition drive to force the GOP-controlled House to call a vote on extending long-term unemployment insurance — a boost for the freshman facing a tough re-election battle.
To try to force a vote, Schneider et al. are getting signatures on a “discharge petition,” a tactic that is rarely successful — the last time a discharge petition worked was in 2002; before that, 1986.
But victory is measured in many ways, especially when this is viewed through a political lens.
Schneider is taking on the discharge petition assignment with gusto as he faces a potentially brutal 2014 rematch with former one-term Rep. Bob Dold, R-Ill., who he beat in 2012 for the north suburban 10th congressional district seat. Neither faces rivals in the Tuesday Illinois primary.
This will be one of the biggest November House contests in Illinois and perhaps the nation.
So it makes sense for the Democratic House leaders to give the politically vulnerable Schneider a high-profile role.
Outside the House chamber on Wednesday, Schneider, surrounded by the House Democratic leaders at a press conference said, “The failure to pass unemployment insurance is hurting families, it is hurting businesses, and communities, it is hurting our economy. That’s why today, I have introduced a discharge petition to bring to the floor a vote on unemployment insurance.”
The discharge math: If there are no vacancies (there were four on Wednesday), 218 signatures are needed. At present, there are 199 Democrats and 232 Republicans. Presuming Democrats get about 190 of their own to sign — which is likely — there would have to be about two dozen turncoat Republicans. The names of all the signers are public — on a website — so the traders are easily identified and can be punished.
House Democrats are also running a discharge petition to boost the federal minimum wage.
Democratic strategists I talked to like the discharge petition tactic because:
◆ It isolates GOP opponents and makes it easier for outside groups to target them. Arguing why unemployment insurance should be extended is complex. Asking for an up-or-down vote — where a lawmaker can just vote no — is simple.
◆ Unemployment insurance extension generally polls well and energizes the Democratic base, especially unions.
◆ It allows a lawmaker to show he or she is fighting for a cause even as a member of the Democratic minority.
◆ Part of the broad strategy of a discharge petition is to pressure Republicans to move on the issue on their own.
Dold told me in a statement the door is open: “I stand with the men, women and families across the 10th District who continue to face joblessness and believe that Congress must work in a serious, bipartisan and fiscally responsible manner to extend unemployment insurance by closely connecting it with job creation polices and new job training programs.”
◆ In the Schneider/Dold contest, where both men cast themselves as eager bi-partisans, the goal is to put Dold — and the GOP House leadership he has supported and who are helping him in 2014 — on the defensive.
Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan R-Wis. — and Mitt Romney’s 2012 running mate and a House GOP leader — is headlining fundraisers for Dold in Chicago on April 11. There is a reception at the law offices of Kirkland & Ellis and a lunch at Chicago Cut Steakhouse; tabs run from $500 to $2,600.