On Veterans Day eve, an uncharacteristically unified Senate emphatically passed a bill to help unemployed veterans and government contractors that includes the first, small slivers of President Barack Obama’s jobs agenda that he is likely to sign into law.
Thursday’s 95-0 vote gave lawmakers the opportunity to fly home to holiday events and boast about helping veterans and protecting jobs. But it did little to help close the scorching partisan divide over how to revive the gasping economy, an issue that seems sure to decide next year’s presidential and congressional elections.
“We deal with a lot of contentious issues here, but this should not be one of them,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., a leading sponsor of the veterans’ provisions.
The legislation would award tax credits of up to $9,600 to companies that hire disabled veterans who have been job-hunting for at least half a year and strengthen employment counseling and training programs for vets and troops about to leave the military.
It also would erase a law, yet to take effect, requiring federal, state and local government agencies to withhold 3 percent of their payments to companies with which they conduct business. That law was enacted under President George W. Bush to nudge companies to fully pay their taxes, but lawmakers now say it would fence off money those firms could better use to hire more workers.
The House is expected to approve the bill resoundingly next week, which would send it to Obama.
The president’s signature would make the veterans tax credits the first fragment of his $447 billion jobs package to be enacted. Those tax credits would cost $90 million over the next decade, according to White House estimates. Obama also has supported annulling the withholding requirement on contractors’ payments.