Senate Republicans Shaft the Vets

Robert Borosage

The young men and women who serve in our military return from fighting in the longest wars in American history to the worst jobs market in generations. They suffer higher unemployment rates than the general population: More than one in 10 is officially counted as unemployed, and that does not include those who have stopped looking for work or are forced to work part-time.

So yesterday, in one final vile act before adjournment for the elections, Senate Republicans used a point of order to block passage of the Veteran’s Jobs Act that would have provided a modest $1 billion to hire veterans to tend federal lands or gain priority in hiring at police and fire departments. The bill was crafted with bipartisan support. Fifty-eight senators supported the bill, but Republicans put together the 40 votes needed to block its passage.

Why shaft the very veterans whose service politicians sanctimoniously celebrate at every occasion?

Is it because unemployed veterans are part of Mitt Romney’s scorned 47 percent? Unemployed, they pay no taxes. They may feel they are “entitled” to the health care benefits they are guaranteed. Many take advantage of training and education benefits. Perhaps Republican senators simply didn’t want to help these “victims” feel entitled to a job in addition.

Or is it because Senate Republicans remain committed to block any action that will produce jobs in their monomaniacal effort to defeat Barack Obama? In the midst of the worst recession in generations, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell famously announced at the beginning of the term that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Republicans then launched a scorched-earth policy of obstruction, using the filibuster to block everything they could. They worked overtime to weaken the president’s initial recovery act, cutting its size and larding it with ineffective tax cuts. Once Republicans took the House, they joined in blocking additional jobs measures, including most recently the president’s American Jobs Act, while forcing cuts in spending that cost jobs. And then, of course, they denounce the president for failing to fix the economy.

Or perhaps Senate Republicans are simply fools, not knaves. Conservative Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma explained his vote against putting unemployed veterans to work by arguing that making progress on the nation’s debt was the best way to help them in the long-term. “We ought to do nothing now that makes the problem worse for our kids and grandkids,” he said. In the long-term, as John Maynard Keynes once said, we are all dead – a comment that gains grim import as the Defense Department reports that veterans are killing themselves at the rate of one every 80 minutes

These same Republicans squandered over $3 trillion on the unfunded “war of choice” in Iraq. And now spending a billion on veterans imposes too big a burden on our grandchildren. This is disgraceful politics.

Naturally, the two Republican senators in close re-election races — Scott Brown in Massachusetts and Dean Heller of Nevada — were given permission to vote for the bill. The rest either are in safe seats or assume that Americans will forget by the time they come up for re-election. They’ll salute the troops, march in the parades, celebrate the returning heroes, and call for larding more billions into the Pentagon. But a small jobs programs for veterans in need of work? Not this year, not before the election.

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