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Senate passes veterans jobs bill

Navy veteran Eric Smith, who served two tours in Iraq in 2006 and 2007 as a hospital corpsman, speaks Thursday on Capitol Hill. The measure to help veterans in the job market is part of President Barack Obama’s $447 billion jobs package.

Associated Press

Navy veteran Eric Smith, who served two tours in Iraq in 2006 and 2007 as a hospital corpsman, speaks Thursday on Capitol Hill. The measure to help veterans in the job market is part of President Barack Obama’s $447 billion jobs package.

WASHINGTON — On the eve of Veterans Day, the Senate approved new measures to help unemployed former service members, advancing a modest piece of President Barack Obama's $447 billion jobs package with rare bipartisan support.

The bill, approved Thursday by a vote of 95 to 0, would extend tax credits to businesses that hire unemployed veterans. It would also provide new dollars for retraining older unemployed veterans for high-demand fields and includes programs designed to make it easier to get civilian certifications for military training.

The vote came after weeks of partisan sniping over the president's jobs plan. The Senate held doomed votes on the package as a whole and then on pieces of the proposal that had drawn strong Republican opposition, while Obama traveled the country slamming the GOP for its obstinacy.

But lawmakers in both parties said the veterans vote showed that Washington is still able to rally around the troops and reach some bipartisan agreement.

"It's no secret that the House and Senate are divided on any number of economic and political issues facing average Americans right now," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. But "our veterans are the one issue that we should never be divided on."

The bill approved Thursday included another small piece of Obama's proposal: It would repeal a tax provision slated to go into effect in 2013 that would have withheld 3 percent of payments from government agencies to their vendors. Obama recommended the proposal because both parties thought the rule would have burned government contractors.

Both measures were minor provisions of Obama's package, which relies more heavily on extension of a payroll tax holiday for workers, unemployment benefits, new infrastructure spending, and aid for states to help hire teachers and first responders.

But they offered an opportunity for rare comity between the parties, both promising to help address the unemployment rate for veterans, which has been hovering three percentage points above that for civilian workers.

The House has approved similar measures, and a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the chamber will take up the Senate's bill next week. The White House also supports the bill.

.Fast facts

Highlights of VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011

• Tax credits of up to $9,600 — double the current amount — for companies hiring disabled veterans who have been jobless at least half a year.

• New tax credits of up to $5,600 for employers hiring veterans who have been job-hunting for at least six months, and up to $2,400 for those unemployed more than four weeks.

• Benefits for older veterans for up to a year of education or training at community colleges or technical schools.

• Mandatory career counseling and job training for many troops leaving the military and improving the training offered.

• Gives disabled veterans up to a year of additional help finding and training for jobs.

• Lets troops begin applying for civilian jobs in the government before leaving the military.

Senate passes veterans jobs bill 11/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 10, 2011 11:12pm]

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