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Senate Republicans today defeated Democratic legislation designed to help veterans get jobs, complaining that the measure violates budget rules and is meant to score political points rather than help veterans.
"Americans don't trust us," said Sen.Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee. "And why should Americans trust us when we keep using gimmicks and budget sleight of hand to hide more spending and drive the country further into debt."
Democrats sought to waive budget rules, but the proposal failed 58-40, with most Republicans voting against it. Sixty votes were needed to overcome the procedural hurdle and push the bill toward final passage. Five Republicans - Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan Collins (Maine), Dean Heller (Nev.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) - voted with all 53 members of the Democratic Conference to sidestep the procedural roadblock.
Republicans also said that job-creating provisions in measure - including establishing a veterans jobs corps to employ veterans in conservation, recreation, and resource management projects on public lands; and as firefighters and police officers - are untested.
"Nobody knows if it works," said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). He warned that if Congress does not begin to exercise some restraint on spending, the deficit, which has topped more than $1 trillion in recent years, will ultimately undermine the nation's economy.
"So on Monday mornings ... I've noticed I have an attitude problem," Coburn said. "I don't want to come [to work] anymore. And the reason I don't want to come anymore is because we're not doing anything to address the real problems that are in front of our country.
"We are ignoring the real problems so we can create political contrasts for an election, all the while our country is sinking, sinking and sinking," Coburn continued.
But Democrats pointed to the elections as a reason why Republicans did not support the measure.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who is in a tight race for re-election, said the GOP blocked the bill because it's a White House proposal and because he is a co-sponsor.
"They are going to kill it on a technicality," Nelson said. "That is what is going on here, and it's sad."
Senate Veterans' Affairs Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said the cost of the bill, $1 billion over five years, is offset. She noted that a vote to block the measure is tantamount to saying the nation has done enough for veterans.
"A vote to support this point of order says that despite the fact that we have paid for this bill, despite the fact that one in four young veterans are out of work, despite the fact that veterans suicides are outpacing combat deaths, and despite the fact that more and more veterans are coming home, we are not going to invest in these challenges," Murray said.
The nation owes veterans "more than just a pat on the back for their service," she continued. "We owe them more than bumper stickers and platitudes. We owe them more than procedural roadblocks that will impede our ability to provide help now and into the future. We owe them action."
Murray continued: "We owe them real investments that will help get them back to work. And that's what this bill does."