The House next week plans to quickly move a bill that would not only boost unemployment services for veterans and eliminate a widely hated tax rule, but has evolved into a shining — and rare — example of bipartisanship.
House Republican leaders have scheduled just 40 minutes of debate next week for the Senate version of H.R. 674, and have planned a vote under a suspension of House rules. The two-thirds majority required for passage is expected to be reached easily, as the bill represents a bipartisan agreement between House Republican and Senate Democratic leaders.
The bill started as a measure to repeal the current (but unimplemented) requirement that federal and state governments withhold 3 percent of all payments to government contractors, an idea aimed at ensuring proper tax collections that has since been discredited as a burden to both government and the private sector.
When the bill reached the Senate, an agreement was struck to add a new section to the bill that expands federal government help for veterans looking for work, the so-called "Vow to Hire Heroes" provision. The language adds new funding for veterans' training programs and a tax credit of up to $5,600 per hire for companies that hire veterans, and up to $9,600 per hire when a veteran with a long-term disability is hired.
In the run-up to Veterans Day, the addition was a perfect prescription for Democrats, who have fought all year for these sorts of job training programs, and Republicans, who were able to support these sorts of ideas in an effort to help returning troops. Senate Republicans praised Democrats for finding a formula that both sides can agree to after months of partisan bickering.
"Later today ... we'll pass this jobs bill on a bipartisan basis then we'll send it back to the House, where we hope it will pass shortly," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. "In other words, we're going to legislate."
The veterans programs are paid for by extending for five years a fee charged to veterans for a home mortgage program that was due to expire on Nov. 18. While some Democrats criticized this extension as an unfair burden to veterans, the House is expected to easily pass it anyway, and send it to a White House that said Thursday it "strongly supports" the total package.
"The effect of the repeal of the withholding requirement would be to avoid a decrease in cash flow to these contractors, which would allow them to retain these funds and use them to create jobs and pay suppliers," the White House said in a Statement of Administration Policy. "This would complement the administration's other efforts to help small businesses.
"H.R. 674, as amended by Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, contains the Returning Heroes and Wounded Warrior tax credits for firms that hire unemployed veterans that the president proposed to the Congress as part of the American Jobs Act, as well as other reforms to ensure that the men and women who serve are able to navigate this labor market upon exiting the military," the White House added.