Democrats Plan to Bring Republicans Face-to-Face With the Unemployed

The State of the Union invitations represent a new front in the battle over unemployment insurance.

A group of demonstrators hold up signs before a markup hearing of the Senate Finance Committee October 11, 2011.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
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Sarah Mimms
Jan. 27, 2014, 8:31 a.m.

Demo­crats are furi­ous with Re­pub­lic­ans for re­fus­ing to ex­tend un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance be­ne­fits. On Tues­day, they’ll take that fight to the next level — for­cing their col­leagues to stand face-to-face with some of the long-term un­em­ployed who lost their be­ne­fits ex­actly one month earli­er.

A cadre of House Demo­crats are or­gan­iz­ing a sort of sit-in at the State of the Uni­on with about 10 mem­bers each bring­ing an un­em­ployed per­son from their dis­tricts as their plus-one. These guests will sit in­side the House cham­ber, just feet from the Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers who last month re­fused to in­clude a short-term ex­ten­sion of the in­sur­ance pro­gram in the budget agree­ment.

Demo­crat­ic Reps. Mark Po­can of Wis­con­sin and Alan Lowenth­al of Cali­for­nia or­gan­ized the move­ment, ur­ging col­leagues to bring one of the long-term un­em­ployed with them to the State of the Uni­on on Tues­day. Rep. Sander Lev­in, D-Mich., who led the fight to ex­tend un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits dur­ing Decem­ber’s budget de­bate, has also signed on.

Po­can is bring­ing Bri­an Krueger of Mount Horeb, Wisc., with him. Krueger was laid off from his job as a steam­fit­ter in June and has struggled over the last month to make mort­gage pay­ments. He and his wife have ap­plied for food stamps and they’ve re­duced lunches for their two chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to Po­can’s of­fice. Krueger has ap­plied for two to three jobs every day, but has still not been able to find work.

More than 1 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans, many of whom had already been out of work for 26 weeks, lost their be­ne­fits on Dec. 28. That num­ber has since climbed to 1.6 mil­lion people and con­tin­ues to grow as Con­gress wrangles over the is­sue.

With both sides at­tempt­ing to score polit­ic­al points, Con­gress seems far from reach­ing a solu­tion. Demo­crats are push­ing for an im­me­di­ate, if short-term, ex­ten­sion of the pro­gram, while Re­pub­lic­ans ar­gue that an ex­ten­sion must be paid for. So far, Demo­crats have been re­luct­ant to find off­sets to fund the pro­gram, ar­guing that the ex­pir­a­tion of un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance be­ne­fits con­sti­tutes an “emer­gency”.

In real­ity, the dis­agree­ment is an elec­tion-year win­ner for both sides, al­low­ing Demo­crats to ac­cuse Re­pub­lic­ans of not caring for the poor and job­less, while Re­pub­lic­ans say their op­pon­ents want to ex­pand gov­ern­ment without pay­ing for it and con­tin­ue to drive up the na­tion’s debt.

The pres­ence of the long-term un­em­ployed could have par­tic­u­lar res­on­ance dur­ing Pres­id­ent Obama’s speech, which is ex­pec­ted to fo­cus on in­come in­equal­ity and eco­nom­ic fair­ness.

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