A bill to put veterans to work preserving and restoring national parks and other federal, state and local lands has become mired in a political fight, facing a procedural vote in the Senate at noon Wednesday that could leave the legislation’s future in doubt.
Democratic sponsors charge that the Veterans Job Corps bill is being held up by Republicans who refuse to allow any legislative victories to the Obama administration, while Republicans counter that a GOP version of the legislation will lower veterans unemployment without raising the deficit.
The Democratic bill is based on a proposal for a $1 billion program outlined by Obama during the State of the Union Address, but has been amended to include a number of Republican sponsored provisions, 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.
Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the organization expected little opposition to the modified legislation. “Once it incorporated ideas from both sides of the aisle, I thought it would be an easy sell,” said Tarantino, who served as an Army captain in Iraq.
But the bill last week faced attacks from several Republican senators. Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) briefly filibustered to raise an unrelated issue related to Pakistan. Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.) said the bill had no chance of passing the House of Representatives and is meant to help “politicians and not veterans.” Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) called the bill a “charade.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions, (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, raised a budget point of order, charging that the bill violates the Budget Control Act by adding to the deficit. Without 60 votes, the bill will be returned to committee, a step Democrats say will effectively kill the legislation. But Sessions says that step would merely require the Democrats to bring forth a bill that stays within the budget.
“I’ve been surprised at the many obstacles and weird arguments that have been thrown at us,” the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Patty Murray, (D-Wash.), who is chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said in an interview.
Sen. Richard Burr, (R-N.C.) the ranking member of the Senate committee, issued an alternative version last week that removed the Veterans Job Corps from the legislation, but added other provisions that do not require funding.
Murray tried to head off Republican opposition by incorporating most of Burr’s legislation into her own bill, as well as proposals made by several other Republicans, including a measure that would pressure states to make it easier for veterans to get civilian certification for their military skills.
“We figured that this comprehensive, bipartisan approach would certainly be enough to gain Republican support — even if it did come as we were inching closer to an election,” Murray said in a floor speech last week. She said the bill is paid for with budgetary offsets and would not add to the deficit.
“We’re all worried about unemployment among veterans,” Sessions said in an interview. He said Burr’s legislation will combat the problem while remaining “clearly within the budget.”