The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved legislation to combat joblessness among military veterans and eliminate a barrier to government contracting of private firms. The measures are the first elements of President Barack Obama’s jobs plan to receive significant bipartisan support in the politically-divided legislature.
On the eve of the U.S. Veterans Day holiday, lawmakers voted 94 to 1 to promote civilian employment of those who wore a uniform in defense of the nation.
“The unemployment rate among all veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan is now 30 percent higher than the national unemployment rate," said Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. "That means nearly a quarter-million veterans are unemployed. We must do more to appreciate, to support the service of our returning heroes and to help them recover from their service abroad by returning to meaningful employment in the civilian sector.”
The Vow to Hire Heroes Act provides tax credits for companies that hire disabled veterans as well as jobs training and counseling for returning service members. It is intended to help veterans highlight skills and experience acquired through military service that might be of use to employers.
The Senate also approved a bill to streamline the payment of private contractors hired by government entities.
The two measures constitute a rarity in Washington - a bipartisan congressional agreement on legislation to combat America’s stubbornly-high unemployment rate. In recent weeks, Republican senators have blocked efforts to retain teachers and emergency responders, and to boost federal spending for infrastructure projects.
The Senate's top Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, says there is a lesson to be learned - that Congress need not be paralyzed by partisan gridlock.
“This is how divided government works - through genuine cooperation and a search for common ground," he said.
The legislation is expected to be approved next week by the House of Representatives and signed into law by President Obama.