President Obama, seen on his way to speak at the Veterans of Foreign Wars… (Scott Sady / Associated…)
WASHINGTON – The Senate overwhelmingly advanced President Obama’s Veterans Jobs Corps legislation, which would provide $1 billion over the next five years to hire post-Sept. 11, 2001-era veterans for public works jobs and give them preference for police and firefighter positions.
Veterans from the 9/11 era have a consistently higher unemployment rate – 10.9% for August – than the national rate of 8.1%.
Tuesday’s vote to bring the bill to the Senate floor was 95-1. Democrats led the effort, which came on the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Republicans agreed to begin debate, but it is unclear whether they will support final passage this week.
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Republicans have opposed any new taxes, and GOP senators may be uncomfortable with imposing a levy on tax-delinquent Medicare providers and suppliers to pay for part of the costs of the Veterans Jobs Corps. They also want a chance to offer amendments to the bill.
Few Republicans spoke Tuesday in the Senate in support of the bill.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the bill’s author, said passage was the least Congress could for the nation’s veterans. “These folks have already done the tough, tough jobs,” said Nelson, who is in a reelection battle in Florida this fall against Republican Rep. Connie Mack. “We need to give them as many opportunities as possible to succeed when they get back home.”
Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada said he would vote Tuesday to begin debate on the bill, but said veterans are struggling to find work because of Obama’s “failed policies.”
“It’s time to look our veterans in the eyes and ask, ‘Is this working?’” said Heller, who is also in a tough re-election campaign against Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley in the Silver State. “The bill we are taking up this week is an acknowledgment that the policies of the past four years have not worked.”
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The legislation is part of Obama’s to-do list for Congress, a modest set of proposals unveiled this year to spur the economy and lower the unemployment rate. Republicans have largely dismissed the initiative.
The Veterans Jobs Corps would provide $1 billion over five years to hire up to 20,000 veterans for public lands projects and give them preference for police and firefighting positions.
Pilot job centers would be established to provide veterans with computers and Internet access to search for work. States would be required to consider the skills and training acquired in the military for professional certification and licensing programs.
The costs would be covered by imposing a levy on Medicare suppliers and providers who are delinquent on their taxes, and repealing funds for a deep-water natural gas research and development program.
Bringing the legislation to the floor allows Democrats to keep focus attention on GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s failure to mention the Afghanistan war and veterans’ issues in his Republican convention acceptance speech.
Romney’s campaign has said the candidate addressed veterans issues the day before the convention during a speech to the American Legion.