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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.