Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Right Call

Senate Republicans are being called "cruel," "heartless" (and worse) after rejecting a $1 billion veterans jobs bill.  More from The Hill:

Senate Republicans stopped the veterans jobs bill Wednesday by forcing a budget point of order vote.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (R-Ill.) requested a motion to waive the budget point of order, which was raised by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Democrats needed 60 votes, but got only 58.
“This violates the Budget Control Act, there is no dispute about it,” Sessions said in a floor speech Wednesday. “The bill will not even go through the House and it violates the Constitution because it says revenue bills must be started in the House ... [and] this is a revenue bill.”
The Veterans Jobs Corp Act would have created new job-training programs to help veterans find work in targeted fields such as national park conservation, historic preservation projects, police work and firefighting, among others.
Only five GOP senators voted in favor of the waiver; two of them (Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Dean Heller of Nevada) are in tough re-election fights, so perhaps we'll give them a pass. 
Meanwhile, the Republicans who voted against the bill deserve praise, for several reasons.  First, the Senate bill was nothing more than a political stunt, aimed at painting the GOP as "anti-veteran."  Democrats who backed the legislation knew it was doomed for defeat on procedural grounds alone, but offered it anyway.  Call it an exercise in cynicism.  
Secondly, as Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn explained, the veterans job bill is a prime example of wasteful spending that will only add to the national debt.  Once created, programs like the veterans job act tend to grow like weeds, consuming far more tax dollars than anyone originally envisioned, and providing few positive results.  
Case-in-point?  The new Post 9-11 GI Bill, which was passed and signed into law with much fanfare a few years back.  Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, the primary author of the legislation, claimed the new GI Bill would finally provide the same level of support given to veterans who went back to school after World War II.  
Obviously, no one would reject education benefits for veterans.  But there's a dirty, dark secret about the latest version of the GI Bill: it has become a fiscal black hole that is producing almost no graduates.  
Last fall, an official with the Labor Department told a military education group in Colorado that 88% of veterans who become full-time students on the Post 9-11 GI Bill leave school after only one year.  Financial aid officials at various colleges and universities report that some recipients are in school only for the housing stipend, allowing them to survive in a tough economy.  And the total cost of the latest GI Bill is already at $15 billion a year, almost double the original projection.  
Despite the best intentions, the new GI Bill is clearly off the fiscal rails and will continue to waste tax dollars without serious reform.  And there's no reason to believe the veterans job bill would have fared any better.  Some of the "conservation" positions were little more than make-work jobs, totally dependent on more federal funding to keep vets employed.  
Additionally, there are plenty of training programs for veterans who want to work as police officers or fire fighters; in fact, many ex-service members are trained as MPs or military firemen while in uniform, so it shouldn't take a billion-dollar program to prepare vets for those jobs.  Indeed, one could argue that the money would be better spent on finding vets already qualified for such positions.  But that would block the opportunity to create another, massive government bureaucracy, the unstated goal of most new programs.  
Throughout the current recession, unemployment rates for veterans have remained well above the national average, and various federal programs and initiatives have done little to help the situation.  Of course, the best solution is the most obvious: avoid the massive defense cuts that are forcing thousands out of the military and crippling our defense industrial base.  If the Senate is truly serious about unemployment among veterans, they might consider a defense "surge," providing more money for critical military programs that would create thousands of good-paying American jobs. 
Instead, Senate Democrats are playing procedural games while sequestration looms on the horizon.  That would mean an additional $50 billion a year in defense cuts, bringing the annual reduction to $100 billion over 10 years.  If you think a lot of vets are out of work now, just wait until sequestration takes hold. 

4 comments:

David Sullivan said...

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (R-Ill.) ??? R???

OmegaPaladin said...

Dick Durbin is a D, not an R. I know this all too well, as he is my senator. At least I have Mark Kirk (R-IL) - decent guy and a veteran.

George Smiley said...

David/Omega: the mis-identification of Durbin as a Republican occurred in the original report, excerpted from The Hill. Their mistake, not ours, though we'll pay closer attention next time.

SwampWoman said...

*sigh* The reason that most veterans do not graduate under the GI bill is because that is the most mismanaged program that I have yet run across but, then again, I haven't that much experience with other large government programs. Maybe that level of mismanagement is just considered normal in government circles.

As an example, some 30 years ago I attempted to go through college as a veteran under the GI program. My chosen degree was business. Imagine my surprise when my (very small) GI bill, which I used to pay for school, books, and day care expenses, did not arrive. Upon inquiry, they had decided that accounting classes weren't in my field and since that meant that I was not a full-time student, they were retroactively taking back my tuition and full-time student pay for the last semester and were taking it out of my check.

Well, I had to quit that time and earn enough money to save up enough for tuition, books, and day care expenses for the four months that I wouldn't be drawing any VA money, and then go back to school to use my benefits.

A year later, I started back. I took my first semester of accounting as required for my business degree. The VA rep assured me that everything had been straightened out and after the semester was over, I should start getting VA benefits again. Unfortunately, however, the VA decided that my second semester (as required) of accounting was not in my degree, and refused to pay AFTER I had completed that semester and drawn benefits. They all had to be paid back. Okay, had to drop out and go back to work for a year.

This "benefit" was not working out well. I had ten years to get five years' worth of college, and was now in year three and had yet to complete one full year. Maybe the third time is the charm?

So, back to school. I took a (required for graduation) science course. Yep, you guessed it. After drawing my VA benefits for that term, the next term brought the letter that said that the class was not in my field of study, and my benefits would have to be repaid.

At that point, I was done. I would get about $2,000 worth of benefits then have to pay it back. It was easier and more cost effective to take a class per semester at night.

My husband tried to go to school using his benefits and got much the same result.

It took me ten more years to finish. My husband finished about a year earlier than I did, but only because I supported him full time while he took 18 to 21 hours per semester. Neither of us took any loans.

Thirty years later, our son-in-law was unemployed and the local economy is bad and getting worse. Daughter tells us that he has decided to use his GI benefits and use this opportunity to get a college degree in logistics which, in a port city, would seem to be a desirable degree. I told them not to depend on that check as it probably will not be there. They said that my experience was years ago, and surely things will be much better now. After all, everything is computerized. What could go wrong?

Their experience to date has been that the check is ALWAYS late. Sometimes two or three months late. He's been getting student loans to live on while waiting for the GI bill money to arrive, which is sporadic. The money is being yanked for imaginary reasons (just like when we tried to go to school). The latest reason that he isn't getting any money is that his book subsidy was supposedly too big. He has to pay it all back before he will be eligible again for any benefits, even though it was a year late and he questioned it repeatedly with his representative before he cashed the check and paid some overdue bills.

Now he's back in the work force full-time trying desperately to get caught up on past due bills as well as paying for student loans for a degree that he was never able to complete.