CT lawmakers to back Obama, their own agendas, at State of the Union

Washington – President Obama is expected to roll out an ambitious agenda in his State of the Union speech that could increase the distance between the White House and Republicans in Congress. Connecticut’s lawmakers, however, will use the occasion to show support for that agenda – and promote their own.

Last week Obama rolled out plans to fight cybercrime and expand broadband access, help kids go to college and give workers paid family leave.

He’s expected to promote those plans, and more, at Tuesday’s speech to the nation and a joint session of Congress.

Reps. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, and Jim Himes, D-4th District, have invited as their guests Daisy Cocco De Filippis, president of Naugatuck Valley Community College, and David L. Levinson, president of Norwalk Community College, respectively. The invitations indicate the lawmakers’ support of Obama’s plan to provide all community college students in good standing with free tuition for two years.

Republicans have balked at the plan’s $60 billion price tag over 10 years.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., has invited Susie Clayton, a breast cancer survivor from  Canaan who struggled to obtain health care coverage before the Affordable Care Act was implemented.

“Quite often I would have to take a job that ‘didn’t fit’ or stay in a job that was no longer ‘working’ just to have access to health coverage,” Clayton said in a statement. “My entire survivorship depended on my being able to maintain and afford good coverage.”

Murphy said the Clayton family’s premium was more than $1,500 per month. But the ACA provided the family similar coverage at $87.44 per month.

In inviting Clayton, Murphy is carrying out his role as the Senate’s chief defender of the ACA. More “success stories” are expected from Murphy, and from Obama during his speech to the nation Tuesday evening.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has invited Joann Eldridge to the event. She’s the widow of Justin Eldridge, a Marine who served in Afghanistan and committed suicide in 2013 after a lengthy battle with post-traumatic stress and a traumatic brain injury that went undiagnosed for a long time. Eldridge and her four children live in Oxford.

In announcing his State of the Union guest on Friday, Blumenthal promoted a bill he co-sponsored with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, named after another soldier who committed suicide. The bill aims to improve mental health care and suicide prevention resources for service members and was approved by a wide margin in the House of Representatives earlier this month.

“With Joanna in the audience and veterans and their families across the country listening at home, I urge the president to address this crisis and couple it with a call for action,” Blumenthal said.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who like Blumenthal serves on an Armed Forces Committee, has invited Army Sgt. John Meadows of Ledyard. He was injured while driving a truck and now suffers from double vision and cognitive impairments.  Courtney is a big proponent of improving medical care for veterans and active-duty personnel.

Just hours before Obama addresses Congress and the nation, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, plans to hold a press conference with fellow opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a new trade agreement the president is pursuing between the United States and Pacific Rim countries like Chile and Japan.

DeLauro is trying to stop Congress from approving “fast track” legislation that would allow Obama to pursue the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade agreements.

Obama, meanwhile, is likely to make a pitch for the fast track legislation, and the new trade agreement in his speech.

DeLauro’s guest will be John Barto, vice president of Ansonia Specialty Metals, a company that says it was hurt by foreign competition and forced to close.

No statement this year

Meanwhile, Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, is not making a political statement this year. He’s invited Philip Schonberger, a long-time personal friend from Connecticut.

Obama took the unusual step of unveiling some of his State of the Union policy proposals in detail in advance his speech.

“Why stand on formalities? Let’s get the ball rolling right now,” Mr. Obama said at a recent stop in Tennessee.

The president is also expected to speak about the economic recovery, his efforts to establish “manufacturing hubs” — regional public-private partnerships aimed at developing new manufacturing technologies — taxes and transportation.

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, the controversial, newly elected tea party-endorsed lawmaker, has been selected to deliver the Republican response. It will be translated and separately broadcast in Spanish by South Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Ernst won national attention with a campaign video called ‘Squeal.’ It featured her boasting about castrating hogs on the farm where she grew up. “Washington is full of big spenders. Let’s make ’em squeal,” she says.

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