A chill returns to San Diego’s morning air, hinting the warmer-than-usual summer is nearing an end. Unfortunately, the chill in the chambers of the 112th U.S. Congress is not as welcome. The longest deep freeze in the history of Congress continues unabated. The U.S. is gangrenous from frostbite and its veterans suffer the most. Recently returning veterans are forced to fight unemployment rates higher than the national average. In August the veteran unemployment rate was 10.9 percent, compared to 8.1 percent nationwide. Expand the demographic to 18 to 29-year-old veterans and the percentage becomes eye-popping: 19.9 percent. It’s little wonder many succumb to substance abuse, homelessness and suicide.
Thanks to Senate Democrats, veterans were on the verge of receiv- ing rare Congressional largess. Ten Democrats responded to the plight of veterans by drafting the proposed Veteran Job Corps Act of 2012. The bill would’ve provided $1 billion in job training for veterans and would have given them priority in first responder and federal land jobs. To pass, it needed seven Republican to cross the aisle, but only five mustered support. Senate Republicans proclaimed the bill a violation of the Budget Control Act, a last-minute legislation stopping a national loan default in August 2011.
The GOP still doesn’t accept that job creation requires economic stimulus. Therefore, not all spending is bad. Increasing the workforce elimi- nates social welfare spending while maximizing gross domestic product. It can’t get more win-win than that. Furthermore, the Veteran Job Corps Act was inspired by New Deal-era legislation the U.S. used to climb out of the Great Depression, harkening back to a Congress with courage to print money and put its citizens back to work. Sadly, intestinal fortitude is a value absent from today’s legislators.
Senate Republicans say the bill was killed because it violated spending limits. Lest we forget, those limits were enacted because Congressional Republicans wouldn’t compromise on budget bills, something previous Congresses were relied on to do. They were given one last chance to play nice, but couldn’t bother getting a debt cap bill out of committee. As a result, $500 billion must be cut from the Defense Department’s budget. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham de- clared the cuts dumb, railing against “holding the Defense Department hostage to the tax debate.”
The GOP’s disregard of veterans is reminiscent of NFL owners’ lack of concern with retired players. Owners don’t mind paying exorbitant salaries for active players, but become misers when asked to support post-career pensions and medical benefits. The inequality stems from active players increasing an owner’s profits whereas the needs of former players cut into them. Likewise, the GOP salivates like a rabid dog whenever they have the opportunity to increase Department of Defense expenditures but are nowhere to be found when it comes time to pay the costs of ill-begotten wars. The job act would’ve passed if it cared half as much for veterans as it does about backslapping Pentagon generals.
The jobs bill also died because of election-year politics. As Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign falls apart, the last thing they want is to allow Democrats to take credit for the creation of an omnibus jobs package. Filled with the same suspicion, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray remarked Republicans were following through on a pledge to oust the president. The GOP’s warhorse marches on regardless of who gets trampled underfoot.
It doesn’t need to be that way, but the GOP neglects the public relations game. It would’ve been easy for Republicans to claim credit for the bill’s passage, because it would’ve kept with its goal of protecting America’s heroes. They could’ve engineered a brilliant photo opportunity depicting a brave Senate Republican casting the bill-saving vote. Then again, this is the party whose presidential nominee, Romney, neglected to mention the military during his speech at the Re- publican National Convention. One now has to wonder if the omission, coupled with disdain for this bill, is a shift in Republican strategy regarding
America’s veterans. After all, Graham and his cronies cry about impending defense sequestering while thinking nothing of holding veteran benefits hostage.
Fall gives way to winter sooner than most would like. Winter is a cruel time to be homeless. Passage of the Veterans Job Corps Act would have prevented more veterans from freezing on America’s hard, cold streets. It’s too bad the 112th U.S. Congress is more interested in the politics of division than in building a better tomorrow. America’s war heroes are one step closer to becoming homeless. At least they know whom they can thank for putting them there.