On the eve of Veterans Day, the Senate approved new measures to help unemployed former service members, advancing a modest piece of President Obama’s $447 billion jobs package with rare bipartisan support.
The bill, approved Thursday by a vote of 95 to 0, would extend tax credits to businesses that hire unemployed veterans. It would also provide new dollars for retraining older unemployed veterans for high-demand fields and includes programs designed to make it easier to get civilian certifications for military training.
The vote came after weeks of partisan sniping over the president’s jobs plan. The Senate held doomed votes on the package as a whole and then on pieces of the proposal that had drawn strong Republican opposition, while Obama barnstormed the country slamming the GOP for its obstinacy.
But lawmakers in both parties said the veterans vote showed that Washington is still able to rally around the troops and reach some bipartisan agreement.
“It’s no secret that the House and Senate are divided on any number of economic and political issues facing average Americans right now,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. “But . . . our veterans are the one issue that we should never be divided on.”
The bill approved Thursday included another small piece of Obama’s proposal: It would repeal a tax provision slated to go into effect in 2013 that would have withheld 3 percent of payments from government agencies to their vendors. Obama recommended the proposal because both parties believed the rule would have burned government contractors.
Both measures were minor provisions of Obama’s package, which relies more heavily on an extension of a payroll tax holiday for workers, unemployment benefits, new infrastructure spending, and aid for states to help hire teachers and first responders.
But they offered an opportunity for rare comity between the parties, both promising to help address the unemployment rate for veterans — which has been hovering three percentage points above that for civilian workers.
The House has approved similar measures, and a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the chamber will take up the Senate’s bill next week. The White House is also supporting the bill.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the measure offered a welcome opportunity for the gridlocked Senate. “We’re going to legislate,” he said, before scolding Democrats for not advancing more jobs ideas with bipartisan backing.
Likewise, Democrats chided Republicans over their opposition to funding for infrastructure and teacher hiring.
Earlier, Democrats could not muster the 60 votes necessary to end a filibuster on those pieces of the plan, in part because they proposed to pay for them with a new surtax on those who make more than $1 million a year.
But lawmakers agreed to fund Thursday’s bill by delaying a drop in fees for securing a home loan guarantee through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The measure would give businesses a tax credit of as much as $9,000 if they hired a disabled veteran who had been out of work for more than six months, a $5,600 credit for hiring any veteran unemployed for at least six months and $2,400 for hiring a veteran out of work for at least a month.
The 3 percent withholding rule had been approved by Congress in 2005 as a way to ensure government vendors paid their taxes. But its implementation had been delayed twice as small businesses argued that it would crimp their cash flow.