President Obama on Tuesday told veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that they have "have earned their place among the greatest of generations" and that Congress has a duty to find more jobs for returning service members.
"As today's wars end, as our troops come home, we're reminded once more of our responsibilities to all who have served," Mr. Obama said at the annual convention of the American Legion in Minneapolis. "It's not about politics. It's a moral obligation."
The president used the plight of unemployed post-Sept. 11 veterans to highlight a jobs package that he will unveil next week, and he said Congress needs to stop playing politics with his agenda.
"We have to break the gridlock in Washington that's been preventing us from taking the action we need to get this economy moving," Mr. Obama said. "When Congress returns from recess, this needs to be at the top of the agenda. For the sake of our veterans, for the sake of our economy, we need these veterans working and contributing and creating the new jobs and industries that will keep America competitive in the 21st century."
The White House is anticipating a hard fight with congressional Republicans, who are resisting the president's plan for more economic stimulus spending that would add to the nation's huge federal debt.
Veterans groups are front and center with presidential candidates this week. Republican Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, spoke Tuesday to the convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in San Antonio, Texas, the same group that Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas addressed on Monday.
The national commander of the VFW, Richard L. Eubank, issued a broadside at the Obama administration for failing to send a "first-tier speaker" to its gathering, calling it "an insult of the highest magnitude." W. Scott Gould, deputy secretary for veterans affairs, is scheduled to address the group.
White House officials said the president receives many requests to speak and is unable to meet them all.
Mr. Obama's speech to the American Legion comes as the administration is preparing to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The president will visit all three attack sites on the anniversary — the Pentagon, ground zero in New York and Shanksville, Pa.
"As we near this solemn anniversary, it's fitting that we salute the extraordinary decade of service rendered by the 9/11 generation — the more than 5 million Americans who have worn the uniform over the past 10 years," Mr. Obama said. "Never before has our nation asked so much of our all-volunteer force — that 1 percent of Americans who wear the uniform."
Mr. Obama, who long before running for president called the U.S. military invasion of Iraq "a dumb war, a rash war" and later criticized the troop surge that was credited for turning the tide militarily, singled out Iraq veterans for praise.
"When the decision was made to go into Iraq, our troops raced across deserts and removed a dictator in less than a month," he said. "When insurgents, militias and terrorists plunged Iraq into chaos, our troops adapted, endured ferocious urban combat, reduced the violence and gave Iraqis a chance to forge their own future."
The administration is drawing criticism for sending out "talking points" to various government agencies in the U.S. and overseas with instructions on how to mark the Sept. 11 anniversary. The memos, first reported by the New York Times, instruct U.S. embassies to emphasize that the United States has not been the only victim of terrorism attacks.
The president also has been calling attention to the high unemployment rate among veterans who joined the military after the Sept. 11 attacks — 13.3 percent. Last month, Mr. Obama proposed tax credits for companies that hire service members.
The tax incentives would give firms a $2,400 credit for hiring an unemployed veteran, and $4,800 for hiring a veteran who has been out of work for at least six months. The administration estimates the cost of the proposal at up to $120 million over two years.
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