WASHINGTON – President Barack 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 percent in August, compared with 8.1 percent in the broader population.
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.
The one bill likely to clear both chambers before Congress adjourns is legislation 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.
Supporters of the Veterans Jobs Corps legislation, which included Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., loosely modeled their proposal after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, which was used during the Great Depression to put people to work planting trees, building parks and constructing dams. They said the latest monthly jobs report merited action from Congress.
Democratic officials did not have an estimate for how many veterans would be hired as a result of the legislation. Murray, who is chairwoman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said much would depend upon the number of applicants. She noted that more than 720,000 veterans are unemployed across the nation, including 220,000 veterans who have served since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She said putting veterans back to work was the cost of war.
“Instead of meeting us halfway, we have been met with resistance,” Murray said.
The Veterans Jobs Corps measure needed 60 votes to overcome the budgetary hurdle but was turned back, 58-40.
The advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America denounced the vote.
“This bill was smart bipartisan policy that would put veterans back into service for their communities as policemen, firefighters and first responders,” the group’s founder and chief executive, Paul Rieckhoff, said in statement. “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.”
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., one of the chamber’s top budget hawks, said job training programs already exist for veterans and there is “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 re-election battles.