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Government, Politics & Issues

Missouri's senators split on Veterans Jobs Corps vote

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 19, 2012 - WASHINGTON -- While they both acknowledge that unemployment among returning veterans is too high, Missouri's U.S. senators came down on opposing sides of the vote Wednesday when the Senate shelved President Barack Obama's proposal to establish a Veterans Jobs Corps program.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., joined every Democrat -- including Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. -- and five GOP senators in voting for a waiver that would have allowed a final vote on the bill. But she and other backers fell two votes short of the 60 needed.

Meanwhile, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and most other Republicans voted against the waiver --arguing that approving the five-year, $1 billion program would violate budget rules.

The Veterans Jobs Corps concept had been one element of Obama’s 2011 jobs plan, which he repeatedly urged Congress to approve -- but which has had little success in either the House or Senate.

Last month, veterans who have served in the military since Sept. 11, 2001 had an unemployment rate of 10.9 percent, compared with the 8.1 percent jobless rate of the broader population.

McCaskill and other supporters, led by the prime sponsor, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., argued that the proposed Veterans Jobs Corps would expand local job opportunities for returning vets by training them and helping find jobs related to public forests, wildlife refuges, parks, cemeteries and other operations on public lands -- as well as in areas such as firefighting and police work.

"Today, the Senate had an opportunity to expand job opportunities for our returning troops," McCaskill said in a statement after the vote. "Unfortunately, too many politicians put politics above helping our veterans get back to work, but I’m not deterred. Our veterans never wavered when they stood up to protect our freedoms, and I plan to follow their example by keeping my commitment to veterans’ jobs steadfast and continuing to fight for them."

But several GOP senators -- including Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Ok., argued that the bill was expensive and duplicative, given that the federal government already has numerous other employment and training programs for returning vets, who already are given preferences in federal civilian hiring.

Blunt told reporters that he supported a "valid" point of order against the bill because it violated budget rules. "It's another example of a bill on the [Senate] floor that means nothing except trying to say that Republicans voted against something that had a good title," Blunt said.

The White House issued a statement later that asserted, in part, that "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."

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