Sept. 11 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Senate voted to advance a Democratic measure to create a job program for military veterans.
The procedural vote was 95-1, with 60 needed, on legislation authorizing $1 billion in mandatory spending through 2017 to help veterans find work as police officers and firefighters, and in conservation, historic preservation and national park projects. The vote came on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“For the troops, when they come home, the fight is not over,” bill sponsor Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said today. The unemployment rate among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan was almost 11 percent in August, he said, adding, “There’s another fight when they get back home to America.”
The only “no” vote was by Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has said he will oppose legislation while he seeks a vote on a measure to deny U.S. aid to Pakistan.
The legislation, S. 3457, is based on a proposal in President Barack Obama’s Jan. 24 State of the Union address. North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, the top Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee, called the Democratic plan “disingenuous” because it wouldn’t lead to long-term employment.
Instead of achieving Obama’s objective of creating career paths for returning veterans, Burr said the Democratic proposal would “create 20,000 temporary jobs.” He said he would offer an amendment that would work within federal agencies to create incentives for hiring veterans.
If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, doesn’t allow amendments, “then we know this is purely political,” Burr said.
Senate action on the legislation is timed to help Democrats seeking re-election. Nelson touted the bill this month as an example of his efforts for the state’s 1.7 million veterans as he is in a competitive race for a third term.
“These veterans are so well-trained and have specialties and disciplines,” the Tampa Bay Business Journal quoted Nelson as saying at a Sept. 8 campaign rally in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Nelson, whose state is a presidential battleground, has led his Republican opponent, Representative Connie Mack, in recent polls.
Reid has scheduled other Senate votes to aid members seeking re-election. The chamber voted July 19 on a proposal by Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow that would make it harder for companies to move jobs out of the U.S. and easier to bring jobs here. Stabenow is running for a third term.
Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, who is seeking a second term, was the lead sponsor of a bill that had a Senate vote on April 16. It would have put in place the so-called “Buffett rule,” setting a minimum 30 percent federal tax rate for the nation’s highest earners.
Neither measure advanced because of Republican opposition, allowing Democrats to say the votes showed a contrast between their efforts to aid the middle class and Republican policies they say are designed to protect the wealthy.
Senate Democrats are defending 23 seats in the Nov. 6 election, compared with 10 for Republicans.
The veterans’ measure includes elements supported by Senator Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat seeking a second term this year, aimed at helping veterans who live in rural areas.
“Some folks in Washington still don’t understand that the promises we make to our veterans need to be kept no matter where a veteran lives,” Tester, who is being challenged in November’s election by Republican Representative Dennis Rehberg, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, who is in a tight race against Republican Representative Todd Akin, yesterday criticized him for opposing job training programs for veterans.
“Missourians agree that we need to reduce our federal spending, but helping our veterans transition successfully in civilian life should always be a top priority,” McCaskill said in a statement.
Although the race remains close, McCaskill’s bid for a second term got a boost when Akin said in a television interview Aug. 19 that “legitimate rape” rarely results in pregnancy, so a rape exception to a ban on abortion is unnecessary.
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