Local members of Congress make their points with guest list at State of the Union

Jan 20, 2015

Some Ohio members of the House and Senate will have their own guests in the House gallery tonight when President Obama delivers his State of the Union address.

And they weren’t chosen at random.

Both House Speaker John Boehner of West Chester and Ohio’s senior senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown, have invited guests who are there to make a point on public policy.

It’s something presidents have done for decades – inviting guests with compelling personal stories that dovetail with their State of the Union messages; and they sit in the First Lady’s box in the House gallery.

One, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Terrace Park, is doing it a bit differently. He plans to make his point by who he sits with on the House floor tonight.

Ordinarily, Republicans and Democrats sit on opposite sides of the House chamber for the State of the Union speech, but Portman plans to sit with a Democrat – Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.

Portman, Kaine and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, are sponsoring the Educating Tomorrow’s Workforce Act, which they say would raise the quality of career and technical training programs at schools around the country.

“In today’s competitive job market, far too many Americans are finding they lack the skills they need to get a good paying job,’’ Portman said in a news release. “This legislation is a step in the right direction towards helping those Americans seeking work acquire the skills they need to connect with a job; and I hope that the president will highlight this important issue during his address.”

Ohio’s senior senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown, has invited a guest to make his own point about legislation he would like to see President Obama champion.

Brown is pushing legislation to extend the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to low-income workers without children – “the only class of Americans,” Brown said, “taxed into poverty.”

So he has invited Jason Jacobs, an Ohio University graduate who works as a paraprofessional at Glen Este Middle School in the West Clermont School District, to be his guest and sit in the gallery of the House chamber when President Obama makes his speech.

This afternoon, Brown and Jacobs held a conference call with Ohio reporters to talk about Brown’s legislation to expand the EITC.

Jacobs said he works with special needs students and makes about $13,000 a year. He said that he lives with his fiancée and that even when they combine their incomes, “we struggle to get by week by week.”

Brown’s bill would expand EITC to workers like Jacobs who are under 25 years old and have no children.  Under Brown’s bill, he would receive an EITC of $604.

“I could use the money to fix my truck; and maybe I would be able to put something away for the future,’’ Jacobs said.

Brown is hoping that President Obama, in his State of the Union address, calls for an expansion of EITC to Americans’ in Jacobs’ situation.

Boehner, the leader of the GOP opposition, obviously has a much different agenda than President Obama.

He has invited eight Ohioans – local families, small business owners and farmers – who his staff says “represent the very conversations that led to Rep. Boehner’s five-point, long-term vision for resetting the foundation of our economy.”

Boehner’s five points are “reform our tax code, solve our spending problem, reform our legal system, reform our regulatory system, improve our education system.”

Three of Boehner’s guests are from southwest Ohio.

One of them is Fritz Borke, the president of Borke Mold Specialists in Hamilton. His company is responsible for the new seats at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park.

Borke, a release from Boehner office said, “highlights how many of the five points – from reining in excessive regulations to reforming the tax code – will help businesses like his focus on growing and creating jobs in the area.”

Also attending will be Rodney and Gail Burger, the owners and operators of Dream Acres farm near Camden in Preble County.

“Rodney and Gail Burger represent the areas of the five points that will help the agriculture industry address the skyrocketing costs that families face with every trip to the grocery store,’’ Boehner’s release said.

Also invited by Boehner are Aaron and Betsy Ward, owners of the A&B Coffee & Cake Co. in Greenville, Jamie McGregor, the vice president of McGregor Metalworking in Springfield; Dr. Christopher Grove, a surgeon from Troy; and Dr. Jo Blondin, president of Clark State Community College in Springfield.

President Obama will have one guest from Ohio in the First Lady’s box tonight – retired Staff Sgt. Jason Gibson of Westerville, who lost both legs in combat in Afghanistan. President Obama visited Gibson in 2012 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Last fall, Gibson wrote the president a letter telling him about the year he spent in California after his 21 surgeries. He took up surfing and skiing, completed several marathons on a hand cycle, and earned a pilot’s license.

Back home in Ohio, a non-profit group built Gibson and his wife a house designed for their need. Their first child, a daughter, was born in November.