Vet jobs bill fails in Senate; caught in Hill battle

September 19, 2012

Legislation to put veterans to work preserving and restoring national parks and other federal, state and local lands was defeated Wednesday afternoon when Senate Republicans successfully blocked the bill’s advance with a budgetary point of order.

The largely party-line Senate vote of 58-40 fell two votes short of the three-fifths majority needed to overcome the procedural objection. Republicans said the Veterans Job Corps bill violated the Budget Control Act by adding a new program that would increase the deficit.

“They’re going to kill it on a technicality,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said on the floor before the vote. “That’s the bottom line here. That’s what’s going on here, and it’s sad.”

Democrats charged that Republican opposition stemmed from a refusal to support an initiative that originated in the White House. The corps, loosely based on the Civilian Conservation Corps created during the Great Depression, would employ veterans in conservation, resource management and historic preservation projects on public lands. The legislation would also provide for hiring veterans as police officers and firefighters.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said the measure would have “sailed” through the Senate in past years but had been derailed by partisanship. “Blocking a veterans’ jobs bill is a new low,” he said in a statement.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said GOP concerns were about the $1 billion price tag for the program over five years. Republicans described the proposal as a political ploy of no practical value. “If, in fact, we want to help veterans get jobs, there are lots of ways to do it,” Coburn said on the floor before the vote. “We need to make sure the job training programs we have are working, and they’re not.”

The organization representing the largest number of post-9/11 veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, expressed outrage at the outcome, saying the program would have created thousands of jobs.

“Election politics should never stand in the way of creating job opportunities for our nation’s veterans, especially with an official 10.9 percent unemployment rate,” said IAVA founder Paul Rieckhoff. “We hope constituents, veterans and their families across the country will hold the Senate accountable for this failure.”

“No veteran who fought for our nation should have to fight for a job at home, but Republicans in Washington are blocking a common sense plan to create the Veterans Jobs Corps and put tens of thousands of veterans back to work,” the White House said in a statement.

“It’s both shocking and shameful that Republicans today chose to kill a bill to put America’s veterans back to work,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and a bill co-sponsor. “At a time when one in four young veterans are unemployed, Republicans should have been able, for just this once, to put aside the politics of obstruction and to help these men and women provide for their families.”

Murray said budgetary set-asides would pay for the bill.

Five Republicans, including Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Dean Heller of Nevada, and Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, joined every Democrat in supporting the motion to waive the budgetary objections, but the tally was two votes short.

Murray and Nelson said the vote effectively kills the legislation, but Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee who raised the procedural objection, said the action simply requires the veterans committee to come back with a bill that does not add to the deficit. In an interview, he called Democratic claims that the Veterans Job Corps would not require additional funding “a gimmick.”

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the ranking member of the Senate veterans committee, voted against allowing the job corps bill to advance. He has introduced alternative legislation that includes several veterans job-training initiatives but removes the provision establishing the job corps.

“I introduced a substitute amendment because I felt the Democrats’ bill was more focused on their electoral desires than actual real-world outcomes for veterans,” Burr said. 

In a bid to attract GOP support, Murray incorporated all of Burr’s proposals and those of several other Republicans, including measures that would improve veterans’ access to Internet tools to find jobs, and make it easier for troops leaving military service to get transition training for civilian life.

The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, the country’s two largest veterans’ organizations, have voiced hope for compromise legislation.

Murray warned that the procedural objections raised by Republicans could be used to block other legislation for veterans, including bills to improve access to mental health care and for fertility services for female troops who have suffered damage to their reproductive systems from war injuries.

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