Senate Republicans Block Controversial Veterans Jobs Bill
Senate Republicans rallied to block a controversial $1 billion bill that would have created temporary jobs for veterans within the National Park System. The law, the Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012, was modeled on the Civilian Conservation Corps, a much broader jobs program, primarily for young, unemployed people, during the Great Depression. The law also would have helped local officials hire veterans for certain “first responder” jobs in emergency services, such as police and fire departments. The law would also have extended funding for the “TAP” program, which provided funding for entrepreneurship training for veterans.
The bill was a legislative priority for the Obama Administration, which is eager to be seen creating jobs. But Democrats, who hold a majority in the Senate, were unable to reach the 60-vote majority that would bring it to a vote.
Democrats pointed out that unemployment amongst GWOT and veterans is over 10 percent, and assert that the jobs are desperately needed by this population. However, Democratic Senators admitted that they did not know how many jobs would be created by the $1 billion expenditure.
Republicans objected to the measure on a number of grounds: Earlier this week, Senator Rand Paul unsuccessfully moved to have the bill amended with a provision that would tie federal aid to Pakistan with the release of a key informant in the hunt for Bin Ladin, now serving time in a Pakistani prison for treason.
Republican Tom Coburn also stated that the U.S. already has six jobs programs already earmarked for veterans – and little accounting of how effective these jobs programs are.
Republicans also objected to the $1 billion price tag, coming at a time when other government programs were being rolled back.
Some GOP members objected to the provision in the law that exempted Vietnam-era veterans from consideration for the program.
Additionally, the Republicans also objected on procedural grounds, stating that the Constitution requires spending and budget matters to originate in the House, not the Senate. The law is not expected to pass the Republican-led House of Representatives.
And finally, Republicans also pointed out that the bill did not conform to the Budget Control Act of 2011, which imposes a zero sum game on all Senate committees for new spending. If any committee wants to add funding for any veterans program, it must strip that money from another veterans program.
According to Republicans, the bill violated budget caps agreed to by both parties last year. Republicans raised a point of order pointing out the violation of the Budget Control Act.
A few Republicans did break ranks and vote to move the bill forward: Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Dean Heller of Nevada, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both from Maine.
Murkowski’s state has a large number of National Park facilities that would stand to benefit from the bill. Senators Inhofe (Illinois) and Kirk (Oklahoma), both Republicans, did not cast votes. Full roll call is available here.
Veterans groups generally support the bill. The President of the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America – historically a Democrat-friendly advocacy group – issued a blistering statement:
“This Congress let partisan bickering stand in the way of putting thousands of America’s heroes back to work. Lowering veteran unemployment is something both parties should be able to agree on – even in an election year, election politics should never stand in the way of creating job opportunities for our nation’s veterans, especially with an official 10.9% unemployment rate. We hope constituents, veterans and their families across the country will hold the Senate accountable for this failure.
The blockage of the Veterans Job Corps Act, a bipartisan effort authored by Senators Murray, Burr, Boozman, Heller and Toomey, should outrage all Americans. This bill was smart bipartisan policy that would put veterans back into service for their communities as policemen, firefighters and first responders. The result of today’s vote creates tremendous doubt that this Congress will be able to pass any additional veterans legislation in 2012. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans should not have to wait until 2013 for critical support from Congress.”
The bill didn’t just receive support from the Democratic-leaning IAVA, though. The Veterans Jobs Corps Act also received conceptual support from the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The VFW also opposed the provisions of the Budget Control Act – the law that threatens a series of draconian cuts across all federal departments under sequestration, if Congress does not sooner strike a deal to limit spending.