Lawmakers court the veterans vote and wait to go home

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Congress is using its relatively few working days before November’s general election to send a message of support to the nation’s 21 million-plus veterans. No legislative breakthroughs are expected, but lawmakers in both parties hope the late push will help them make their case to a critical voting bloc.

Senate Democrats are pushing President Obama’s proposal to establish a job corps for veterans. The bill would dedicate $1 billion over five years for the hiring of veterans as police officers and firefighters and for employing others to restore and protect public lands.

House Republicans plan a series of hearings reviewing the Veterans Affairs Department’s performance on key issues, such as its lack of progress in reducing the disability-claims backlog.

Lawmakers want to return to their districts to campaign for re-election as soon as possible. House members could leave as early as Friday and are expected to stay in Washington no later than the end of next week. The Senate is likely to have a shortened September schedule, too.

That means almost no time to pass substantive legislation — but enough time to try to score some points with voters.

For example, Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, a key Democratic Party strategist, wants a procedural vote on the House Republican budget plan written by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the GOP vice presidential nominee. In the House, Republicans are promising a vote on a bill called the No More Solyndras Act, which would phase out Energy Department loan guarantees for solar and wind energy companies. It’s unlikely to come up for a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

California-based Solyndra Inc. went bankrupt last year after receiving a federal loan guarantee, even as some White House aides raised red flags. The company is a focal point for Republican criticism of President Obama’s green-energy policy.

In a nod to veterans, the Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to proceed with a bill to establish the Veterans Jobs Corps. The legislation borrows from the concept of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which put nearly 3 million people to work during the Great Depression planting trees and building roads and parks.

The unemployment rate for veterans had been dropping gradually when it hit a bump in the latest jobs report, which showed the unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan vets at 10.9 percent. That was nearly 2 percentage points higher from the previous month. Economists warn not to put too much stock into one month’s report.

Mr. Obama unveiled the Veterans Jobs Corps proposal in early February. Neither chamber moved swiftly to act on the proposal, but Democrats have now brought the measure to the floor.

“The heroes who fought for their country overseas shouldn’t have to fight for a job once they get home,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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