Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) speaks to the media at the… (Alex Wong / Getty Images )
WASHINGTON -- President Obama’s proposal to create a Veterans Jobs Corps to stem high unemployment among recent military veterans was shelved Wednesday after Republicans in the Senate balked over the five-year $1-billion cost, giving both sides fresh ammunition for the November election.
The measure had been on Obama’s to-do list for Congress, a modest set of initiatives aimed at boosting the nation’s sluggish economy that Republicans have largely rejected. The jobs bill would have hired veterans who served in the military since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to work on federal public lands projects and would have established a network of job training centers.
The jobless rate among those veterans was 10.9% in August, compared with a rate of 8.1 % in the broader population.
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Republicans objected to the projected price tag of the jobs bill as well as the administration’s plan to pay for it by imposing penalties on Medicare providers and suppliers who are delinquent on taxes, and by collecting back taxes from others.
“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,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
The proposal was among a series of Democratic and Republican measures in both the House and Senate this week that are expected to gain little traction as Congress wraps up its work so members can campaign full time for the November election.
In the House, Republicans are working on legislation that would roll back federal regulations on coal mining and amend the administration’s new welfare-to-work requirements. Both measures are expected to stall in the Senate.
Control of Congress will be determined by the elections this fall, and Republicans are trying to preserve their majority in the House, where Democrats hope to flip 25 seats to tilt the balance, while Democrats are struggling to keep their narrow control of the Senate.
One bill likely to clear both chambers before Congress adjourns is a measure to keep the government funded into next year, averting the threat of a government shutdown on Oct. 1, the start of the next fiscal year.
The Senate advanced the funding bill on Wednesday and is likely to send it to the White House for Obama’s signature later this week. The House already approved the measure.
One possible snag is an effort by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to withhold foreign aid to Libya, Egypt and Pakistan. Paul has vowed to stage a filibuster to block the funding bill unless his proposal is brought for a Senate vote.
The Kentucky senator is pushing for Libya to deliver to U.S. authorities suspects from last week’s deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and for Egypt to vow to protect the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. He also wants to make aid to Pakistan contingent on the government’s release from prison of a medical doctor who sought to help the CIA track Osama bin Laden before the terrorist leader was killed last year.
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The Veterans Jobs Corps measure needed 60 votes to overcome the budgetary hurdle but was turned back, 58 to 40.
“It doesn’t have to end this way,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) as the Senate prepared to vote. “We owe [vets] more than bumper stickers and platitudes. We owe them more than procedural roadblocks.”
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), one of the chamber’s top budget hawks, said job training programs already exist for veterans with “no oversight. Nobody knows if they work.” He added, “The real question is how do you help them the best?”
Five Republicans joined Democrats in trying to advance the veterans jobs bill, including Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada. Both Republicans are in tough reelection battles.
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