Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012 | 6:40 p.m.
Sen. Dean Heller was one of just a small handful of Republicans in the Senate who crossed the aisle Wednesday to join Democrats in supporting a bill to create jobs for veterans.
But efforts to advance the bill failed anyway — another victim of the partisan, pre-election proxy war members of Congress continue to wage in Washington.
The Senate came two votes short of the 60-vote hurdle needed to avoid a filibuster on a measure to steer a billion dollars toward getting up to 20,000 veterans employed.
Democrats wrote the bill with a healthy measure of bipartisan support: Eight of the 12 provisions in the bill were Republican-generated ideas, according to Sen. Patty Murray, chairwoman of the Senate’s Veterans Affairs Committee. The bill included contributions from legislation Heller had introduced earlier, to protect the small-business interests of military families. Under the proposed bill, widowed or orphaned relatives of troops killed in action who are bequeathed their fallen relative's small business would be treated as veteran owners, and be given the same preference for government contracts as veteran-owned businesses.
Murray called the vote “a stark reminder that ... Senate Republicans are willing to do absolutely anything to fulfill the pledge they made nearly two years ago to defeat President Obama — it doesn’t matter who gets in their way ... even if it’s our nation’s veterans.” She later added: “Veterans are watching this vote closely.”
Republican leaders were fairly silent about the vote Wednesday, with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell avoiding all questions from reporters at his public appearances.
But many Senate Republicans voiced their objections to the bill on the floor in past days. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky demanded the Senate attach language about cutting foreign aid to Pakistan until the government there releases the Pakistani doctor who helped the United States find Osama bin Laden — he has been sentenced to 33 years in jail for treason.
Others, like Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, argued the bill spends too much money on a duplicative program.
“The desire to help veterans is a noble desire ... but what are the other things that we’re doing for jobs for veterans and how well are they working?” Coburn asked. “We have six veteran job training programs. We already have a preference across the federal government for hiring veterans ... What we have is a bill that's brought to the floor that has good intentions behind it but shows the absolute laziness of Congress in terms of really digging things out.”
But those three senators aren’t facing the same sort of stiff election challenges this year as other Republicans who chose to back the bill.
Sens. Heller and Scott Brown of Massachusetts were two of the five Republicans who elected to buck the party and add their support to the bill — which they emphasized by highlighting that legislative effort in statements directed toward the veteran community.
“Job creation is and continues to be my No. 1 priority — especially for our veterans,” Heller said in a statement released shortly after the vote. “After everything our veterans have done for us, the least we can do is make sure they are afforded every opportunity to thrive here at home. We owe a debt of gratitude to these heroes and I am proud to support the Veterans Jobs Corps Bill.”
Heller and his Senate rival Shelley Berkley have been trying to one-up each other with displays of their support for veterans throughout this election season.
Berkley saw her past efforts to get a VA hospital in Southern Nevada funded realized. Heller introduced a bill to make it easier for people to drive to that hospital. Berkley introduced a bill to increase the burial benefits given to families of veterans killed in action. Shortly after, Heller introduced the aforementioned bill to give the families of veteran small-business owners killed in action the same status as other veteran-owned businesses. Berkley’s and Heller’s supporters have even been demonstrating against each other in recent days over which candidate enjoys more support among Filipino-American veterans.
But the flurry of veteran-focused activity between Berkley and Heller has been more visible on the campaign trail than it has been in Congress. Neither Berkley nor Heller’s legislative ventures have come anywhere near being signed into law — Heller’s provisions in the bill voted on in the Senate Wednesday are as far as any veterans measure has progressed through the legislative process.