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.