Republicans vs. Veterans’ Jobs

From the
Published: September 16, 201

If you made a list of things lawmakers of both parties profess to value at all times — like “jobs,” “opportunity,” “veterans,” “law enforcement,” “firefighters,” “safe streets,” “small business” — and plugged them into a Congressional bill-writing app, you would probably end up with something like the Veterans Job Corps Act of 2012.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, would hire veterans as firefighters and police officers and for conservation jobs in national parks and on other public lands, through grants to federal departments and agencies and contracts with state and local governments and private organizations. It would give a lift to veteran entrepreneurs and contractors in various ways, like making it easier for veterans to use their military training to qualify for civilian professional licenses.

The bill gives priority to those who served on or after 9/11, with good reason: the jobless rate for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan hit 10.9 percent in August, compared with 8.1 percent nationally. This is a time of persistent homelessness and unemployment among veterans, and record suicides among veterans and active-duty service members, many of them stressed by the burdens of two long wars. It makes sense for the 99 percent of Americans to find new ways to pay their debt to the 1 percent who serve in uniform.

To most people, Senator Murray’s bill would seem like one decent way to do that. But not if you’re one of those Republicans in Washington who thinks it’s more important in an election year to deny Democrats a success or accomplishment of any kind.

This has led to some wacky maneuvers in the Senate. Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, perhaps forgetting where he worked, denounced the legislation as a “political exercise.” He also called it a waste of time, since the House wasn’t going to pass it anyway, and objected to the cost (estimated at $1 billion for the next five years, though Ms. Murray’s aides say the program will be paid for by recovering more money from tax-delinquent Medicare providers and forcing big tax deadbeats to pay up before receiving passports).

“Where is our honor? Where is our valor? Where is our sacrifice?” thundered Mr. Coburn, suggesting that giving jobs to veterans was an affront to American values. Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, went further, saying he would block the bill until Pakistan freed Shakil Afridi, the doctor who helped the United States find Osama bin Laden.

Ms. Murray has tried to make her bill as bipartisan as possible. When Senator Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, proposed his own set of provisions, she folded them all into the bill, which is scheduled for a vote on Wednesday. We’ll know then whether good sense prevailed, or the wheels have come completely off the Congressional machine

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