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Cory Booker, Tim Scott team up for the first time

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). (AP)

Updated 3:40 p.m.

They’re both single, in their 40s, shave their heads and are among the youngest members of the U.S. Senate. But Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) are generally considered poles apart politically.

Booker, 44, is the liberal former mayor of Newark and won a special election last year to replace the late senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). Scott, 48, is a tea party favorite and moved from the House to the Senate in late 2012 to take the seat of Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who had resigned to lead the Heritage Foundation.

On Wednesday Booker and Scott teamed up to unveil their first significant piece of legislation designed to help create hundreds of thousands of paid apprenticeships in highly skilled trades, including construction, manufacturing, health care, energy and telecommunications. The hope is that the program will help create jobs for younger Americans, especially minorities struggling to find work.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). (Rainier Ehrhardt/AP)

Booker and Scott’s LEAP Act (Leveraging and Energizing America’s Apprenticeship Programs) would provide tax credits to employers who offer apprenticeships to younger job applicants. Companies that offer apprenticeships to people under age 25 would receive a $1,500 tax credit and a $1,000 credit for apprentices above age 25.

The senators said that ideally their proposal would eventually help create about 400,000 positions and eventually help fill millions of technical jobs.

Apprenticeships, unlike office internships, offer a combination of on-the-job training and instruction in highly-skilled occupations. They can be sponsored and paid for by individual employers, labor groups or employer associations, according to the Labor Department.

Apprentices currently account for 358,000 positions, or just 0.2 percent of American workers, according to data shared by the senators’ offices. Companies in highly-skilled fields face a shortfall of as many as 4 million workers and the number is expected to climb to nearly 5 million by 2020, according to the data. That need comes as just 16 percent of 16-to-24 year olds looking for work are currently employed. Employment numbers lag even farther behind for younger minorities and people without college degrees.

Booker and Scott introduced their proposal Wednesday afternoon in a meeting with reporters, where they appeared at ease with each other. Both recounted that they bonded at a recent meeting organized by Scott that included former African American senators. And both joked about homestate traditions and dialects. Scott, with a southern drawl, at one point instructed Booker that “When you say ‘all y’all,’ that’s plural for ‘ya’ll.’”

Turning serious, Scott said their bill should help ensure that “the next generation of employers can help find the next generation of employees.” And Booker said that as mayor he’d met too many young people “stuck in place” and unable to move up the ladder.

“Especially in the African American community, it’s very important that guys like he and I begin to show people a model that we think can work in the long-term,” Booker said.

Seeking to ensure that their proposal can win support among fiscal conservatives always seeking offsets to new spending proposals, the new tax credits would be paid for by curtailing the printing of government publications. Information for seniors, Medicare recipients and people in communities with limited Internet access would be exempt from the limitations.

Prospects for the Booker-Scott proposal are unclear in the Democratic-controlled Senate, but senior Democratic and Republican senators have been seeking opportunities in recent weeks to devote floor time to modest bipartisan proposals designed to address concerns on education, economic development and job creation.

The GOP-controlled House has also been focused on job creation and economic development, and the bill could do well there, in part because Booker and Scott maintain close relationships with House colleagues. Scott is especially close to fiscally conservative members, and while Booker doesn't have similar relationships with New Jersey's Democratic Congress members, his politics generally align with a majority of House Democrats.

Booker and Scott agreed that depending on the success of their first proposal, they might try to work together again on issues including education and tax reform.

"You know we’ll be really successful when you start noticing more and more senators shaving their heads,” Booker joked. “It’ll be an homage to our friendship."

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.



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