Lawmakers seeking long-term unemployed to attend State of the Union

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.). (AP)
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) (AP)

President Obama may get some help from members of the audience during his State of the Union address later this month when he calls on Congress to pass an extension of unemployment insurance and to raise the minimum wage.

That's because dozens of lawmakers are expected to invite constituents who lost unemployment benefits to be their invited guests to the big speech. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.)  sent a letter to colleagues this week urging them to find a constituent to bring to Washington to "put a face on this issue, and for us all to gain a greater understanding of the effect unemployment insurance has on the people we represent."

“Watching the State of the Union with a constituent struggling to get by without unemployment benefits would demonstrate that while we may disagree on the specific course of action to take, we are all concerned about the problem and committed to coming to a solution," the lawmakers wrote.

More than 1.3 million people remain without federal unemployment aid at least until late January, when lawmakers are likely to resume consideration of the legislation after a week-long recess tied to the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday.

Prospects for renewing the unemployment benefits dimmed considerably Tuesday as Democrats and Republicans traded barbs on the Senate floor and talks on an extension stalled. House Republican leaders have so far declined to engage on unemployment benefits or the minimum wage, at least not until the Senate passes proposals with bipartisan support.

Obama is scheduled to deliver his State of the Union on Jan. 28, the first full day that the House and Senate will be back in session. Ahead of Obama's speech, some senior White House advisers are meeting privately this week with House and Senate Democratic aides to preview his remarks.

Some of those aides have been told that the address is expected to renew Obama's call to extend the unemployment benefits, help launch a debate on increasing the federal minimum wage and also touch on immigration reform. Katie Beirne Fallon, the new White House legislative affairs director, and Dan Pfeiffer, a senior aide, briefed Senate Democratic aides ahead of Wednesday's White House meeting between Obama and Senate Democrats, with a similar briefing for House Democrats expected soon, aides said.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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