For those wondering what could push Congress past its highly partisan habits, Thursday offered an answer: U.S. veterans. On the eve of the day meant to remember those who fought for and protected the U.S., the Senate passed a portion of President Barack Obama's jobs plan, a mix of increased benefits and tax incentives to hire vets enduring prolonged unemployment.
The vote accompanied U.S. companies promising to provide 100,000 jobs for veterans, announced by First Lady Michelle Obama. The White House worked with private industry to get assurances that veterans and their family members would be hired.
That's 100,000 veterans and spouses who will have the security of a paycheck and good career, Mrs. Obama said during a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. That's thousands of families that can rest just a little bit easier every night.
The Senate approved the measure by a rare 95-0 vote.
We deal with a lot of contentious issues here, but this should not be one of them, said U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
Significant Tax Credit for Companies
The bills, called the Returning Heroes Tax Credit and Wounded Warriors Tax Credit, would: give tax credits of up to $5,600 for employers hiring veterans on the job hunt for at least six months; give up to a $2,400 credit for hiring vets unemployed for more than four weeks; offer tax credits of up to $9,600 for hiring disabled veterans who have been seeking work for more than six months; give benefits to aging veterans for continued education; an additional year of help for job-hunting disabled vets; and allow troops to apply for jobs before their stint in the military is over.
The Labor Department estimates 12.1 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were unemployed in October, 3 points higher than the overall national rate.
No veteran who fought for our nation should have to fight for a job when they come home, Obama said in a written statement following the vote.
The bill also negates a George W. Bush-era law set to take hold in 2013 that requires agencies at all levels withhold 3 percent of their payments to contractors, a de facto tax meant to incentivize companies paying their full taxes.
The bill will move on to the House of Representatives next week, where it is expected to pass overwhelmingly.
The tax credits would amount to $90 million, according to White House figures, over the next decade.
The First Lady also announced the creation of the Veterans Job Bank, an online database designed to help match vets and their spouses with potential employers.
The legislation's passage would make it the first chunk of President Barack Obama's $447 billion jobs bill to navigate its way through Congress. The remaining parts of the plan will not face such lackluster opposition.