Empire Editorial: Wrong bill, right idea

Capitol Hill was the scene of another pointless hearing and vote yesterday, but the subject matter wasn’t pointless at all. A veterans jobs bill didn’t pass, but politicians used the vote to put themselves on record as either favoring the bill or standing up for fiscal responsibility by opposing it while stating their support for vets.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has repeatedly shown her will to do right by America’s veterans, and did so again yesterday when she crossed party lines to vote for a $1 billion veteran’s jobs bill that fell two votes short of the 60 it needed to pass.

The largely symbolic vote (nobody gave the bill a chance of passing the House anyway) taken as D.C. lawmakers are ready for an election season adjournment, is sad because it was symbolic. The bill itself speaks to the volumes of work that must be done to ensure that returning vets get the training they need to reenter the job market, as well as the services they need to reintegrate into civilian society.

The bill, which now heads back to committee, has a bit of a pie-in-the-sky feel. It is based on the 1930s-vintage Civilian Conservation Corps, and would put vets to work on federal lands building projects or planting trees. While not everyone needs to become an arborist, the program would have provided jobs and the results would benefit public lands as well as individual hires.

And $1 billion is a lot of cash to start up yet another arm of federal bureaucracy.

But something has to be done. The unemployment numbers cited by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are stark: She said 720,000 vets are unemployed nationwide, and 220,000 of them have served since Sept. 11.

There is an 11 percent unemployment rate among recent veterans according to the latest monthly jobs report.

Numerous job training programs already exist, and it’s up to those who administer those programs to do as much as they can to assist our veterans. Meanwhile, if any group deserves a government-funded and dignified fallback against poverty, returning veterans who want to learn or hone construction or outdoor skills through a WPA-style public works program should be at the head of the line. Perhaps within an existing federal program a veterans jobs corps could be started without eating up $1billion in seed money.

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