Rachel Maddow of MSNBC was among the critics calling out Mike Johanns and other
Republican senators for their votes that helped sink a jobs bill for veterans.
Click here to watch a YouTube clip of Maddow's comments.
WASHINGTON — Particularly high unemployment rates among Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans gave extra charge to this week's vote on a jobs bill for veterans that is already heavy with political implications.
A recent report by Congress' Joint Economic Committee cited an 11 percent unemployment rate among Nebraska's post-9/11 veterans in 2011. In Iowa, the number was 11.8 percent, and nationally it's 12.1 percent.
Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska and several Republicans from the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee found themselves in the cross hairs of critics this week after their votes helped sink the jobs bill that included some of their own proposals.
Johanns said he still supports the substance of the bill, which would create a $1 billion program to put unemployed veterans to work tending federal lands and bolstering local police and fire departments.
But Republicans offered a budget point of order against the bill, saying its spending violated limits that Congress agreed to last year. It takes 60 votes to waive a budget point of order, and the bill fell two votes short, 58 to 40.
Five Republicans joined every Democrat in voting to waive the point of order, while Johanns and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, supported the budget objection.
Johanns said his concerns were based on a “poison pill” that Democrats included on the bill's funding.
“They took money to pay for the bill from committees of other jurisdiction, in this case the Finance Committee,” Johanns said. “That's clearly illegal.”
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., didn't have the same qualms. He said any procedural concerns were trumped by the good the bill would do for veterans and the fact that its costs were fully covered.
“I looked at the bottom line on this and said it's good for veterans, it's the right thing to do, and I'm looking for reasons to support it, not reasons to be against it,” Nelson said.
The bill's defeat brought an outcry from Nebraska Senate candidate Bob Kerrey, the Democrat whom Nelson replaced.
“The blocking of this bill is an outrage,” Kerrey said. “This is a bipartisan bill, and the truth is that certain senators sabotaged it because they do not want to give the president a victory leading into an election.”
But Johanns said the bill would have sailed through if not for Democratic tactics.
He noted that 95 senators, including himself, voted in favor of bringing the bill to the floor on an initial procedural vote. Only one senator voted no. The bill also easily cleared a second procedural vote, which Johanns missed because he was at an event in Iowa.
Johanns said he had been optimistic at the start of the process that Democrats would allow amendments to address Republican concerns about the bill's financing, but GOP proposals were shut out. He suggested that Democrats set up the vote to make Republicans look bad ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
“Welcome to the Senate of Sen. Harry Reid. ... We don't get a chance to fix bills, to amend them, and then he says ‘Well, the bad people on the other side are filibustering.' We're not. We just want an opportunity to do the right thing here,” Johanns said. “The inability to offer amendments ... is what killed this bill.”
Nelson shrugged off questions of whether Democrats or Republicans are trying to jam each other ahead of the election, saying he could speak only to his own motivations.
“There's a lot of mutual jamming going on right now,” Nelson said. “I suppose there's enough jamming for everybody.”
This report contains material from the Associated Press.
Contact the writer: