WASHINGTON -- A pair of House Democrats hope to put a face on the problem of expired unemployment insurance by encouraging their colleagues to invite jobless constituents to the president's State of the Union address later this month.
More than a million Americans abruptly lost their long-term unemployment insurance in December because Congress failed to reauthorize federal compensation. Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have been working on a deal to revive the benefits, but it's not clear if the GOP-controlled House would go along with the Senate.
If the benefits still haven't been reauthorized by Jan. 28, Democratic freshmen Mark Pocan (Wis.) and Alan Lowenthal (Calif.) want to make sure some of the unemployed who've been left hanging make their presence felt in the visitor galleries during the annual speech before a joint session of Congress.
"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," Pocan and Lowenthal wrote in a Tuesday letter to both their Republican and Democratic colleagues.
Every member of the House gets one guest pass to the State of the Union. A Pocan spokesman said his office has been sifting through mail from affected constituents but hasn't yet extended an invitation. In recent weeks unemployed people have joined President Obama and Democratic lawmakers for several press conferences designed to pressure Republicans into supporting the federal benefits, which kick in for workers who use up six months of state aid.
Last year congressional Democrats and the White House invited dozens of people who'd been affected by gun violence, while Republican Rep. Steve Stockman (Texas) invited flamboyant gun rights activist Ted Nugent. During the speech President Obama called on Congress to pass gun control measures, but Congress didn't.