Forgive Mississippi’s veterans if they don’t return the insincere salutes rendered this Veterans Day by senators Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran.
Veterans returning from a decade of conflict face unemployment in numbers at least 10 percent higher than the rest of us. They need help. The $1 billion Veterans Jobs Corps Act was designed to provide it.
Over its five-year life, the jobs bill would have hired veterans who served in the military since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to work on federal public lands projects and would have established a network of job training centers.
The bill was to have paid for itself with new revenue over 10 years. Republican senators say the bill allowed for more spending at the Department of Veterans Affairs than what was agreed to in the Budget Control Act, which is why they raised a point of order that killed the measure on Sept. 17. Passage would need a waiver that Wicker, Cochran and company refused to grant.
Let’s try to understand this: These same senators had no problem funding two wars and keeping the trillion-dollar cost off the budget books. But today, they are born-against budget fundamentalists with little interest in helping the men and women who fought those wars get civilian jobs.
Why no swipe at Senate Democrats here? The simple answer is that each and every one of them supported this bill. Republican senators Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan Collins (Maine), Dean Heller (Nev.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) were the only Republicans who voted for the waiver, in a 58-40 vote. Had Wicker and Cochran possessed the courage to put veterans ahead of party politics and vote with the majority, the measure would have achieved the 60 votes needed for passage.
How to explain the votes of the 40 other senators? That answer is simple as well: Voting for the Veterans jobs Corps Act would make the GOP senators look as though they were cooperating with the other side of the aisle.
Further, Republican Senate hardliners like Jim DeMint of South Carolina argue that special treatment of returning veterans creates a class of citizen granted benefits others won’t receive. DeMint’s position is a belief that is catching on among Libertarians and far right conservatives. It fits nicely into their ideological disdain for government.
They’ll argue that government’s role should be limited to protecting its citizens. However, somewhere along the line they’ve failed to connect the dots that military personnel do precisely that.
A popular item on the Internet these days is a well- said explanation of what our veterans did when they took the oath of service:
A veteran — whether active duty, retired, National Guard or reserve — is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check payable to “The United States of America,” for an amount of “up to and including my life.”
Veterans Day is Nov. 11. If you encounter Wicker and Cochran doing their pro forma appearances that day, take a moment to remind the two of them that freedom is not free.
Here’s a list of the senators who turned away out veterans in their time of need:
Barrasso (WY) – up for reelection
Corker (TN) – up for reelection
Hatch (UT) – up for reelection
Wicker (MS) – up for reelection