WASHINGTON -- Brian Krueger said he's been hearing from lots of friends and neighbors in Mount Horeb, Wis., since the local newspaper reported he'd be attending the president's State of the Union address.
The callers have been surprised not only that Krueger is a guest of his congressman, freshman Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), but also that Krueger has been unemployed for longer than a half-year.
"They honestly didn't know what was going on," Krueger said. "I think it's just a matter of becoming aware, 'Hey I didn't know my neighbor was going through this hard time.'"
Krueger, 47, is one of the 1.3 million Americans whose unemployment insurance disappeared Dec. 28 because Congress failed to reauthorize federal benefits for the long-term jobless. Pocan is one of several Democrats who invited an unemployed constituent to be a guest for President Barack Obama's speech Tuesday night in an effort to highlight the lapsed benefits.
Krueger said he's honored to be in the House of Representatives for the address, but perhaps more importantly, to lend his face to the problem of long-term unemployment, to show America that their friends and neighbors number among the 4 million who've been jobless for six months or longer.
"It's quite an honor," Krueger said. "You're not just there to see [the speech]. You're there to help other people."
Krueger, a steamfitter, first lost his job in 2010. The next year, he picked up a gig helping convert a coal power plant to natural gas. That job ended in June and Krueger started drawing unemployment insurance paid by the state. After six months, he switched to federal benefits that would have lasted another six months if Congress hadn't let them expire.
"We got a letter couple of days before Christmas that unemployment benefits long term were ending," Krueger said. "So, merry Christmas. "
Seven other House Democrats announced Monday they're bringing unemployed guests from their districts. Unable to force a vote in the Republican-led lower chamber, Democrats have waged a publicity campaign highlighting the stories of people affected by the cutoff. Democrats in the Senate, meanwhile, have had a hard time scrounging up enough Republican votes to revive the lapsed benefits.
While Congress remains deadlocked, the White House has suggested Obama will announce Tuesday that he's secured promises from business executives not to discriminate against the long-term jobless in hiring decisions.
Krueger said he and his wife have used up most of their savings and have put their house on the market. He's had a pair of job interviews in the last week and resents when politicians suggest he'd rather draw benefits than work.
"I would make more money if I was working," he said. "These checks aren't enough. They're just there to pay for gas, pay for the phone if a potential employer who calls you up. We've spent our life savings. You don't have anything left, and things still cost money."