By Russell Berman - 03/14/13 10:25 PM EDT
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) brought his Republican colleagues to a community college in his home state on Thursday to talk up a bill aimed at streamlining federal job-training programs.
The House is set to vote Friday on the Supporting Knowledge & Investing in Lifelong Skills Act, a reauthorization of a Clinton-era law that would consolidate what critics have called “a maze” of federal programs into a single block grant.
Cantor has incorporated the bill into his “Making Life Work” agenda, and on Thursday he and three other House Republicans toured an automotive shop at the Northern Virginia Community College to highlight the need for better job-training to match the unemployed with available jobs.
“This is a good-government bill,” Cantor said at a press conference. “It has been recommended by the Government Accountability Office to try and unravel the complicated and overlapping programs that exist in the federal system.”
But they did not mention that the Obama administration on Wednesday issued a statement saying it “strongly opposed” the House bill on the grounds that it eliminated too many programs, froze funding levels for seven years and would leave “vulnerable populations” such as veterans and low-income adults with significant barriers to employments.
House Democrats have also protested the GOP’s approach to the legislation, walking out on a committee markup last week and accusing the majority of rushing the bill to the floor as part of Cantor’s bid to “rebrand” the Republican Party.
Cantor defended the process as “regular order” and chastised the Democrats for “abandon[ing] their duty to engage in a discussion.”
“The Democrats chose not to be a part of the process,” he told The Hill. “We hope that they will rejoin because this is to help people who are unemployed.”
The efforts to improve job-training are centered on the fact that while there are about 12 million unemployed people in the U.S., there are about 3.6 million job openings, many of which go unfilled because applicants do not have the necessary skills, according to statistics cited by the Republicans.
The bill is aimed at giving local governments more control to more efficiently match workforce training to industry needs.
“The suits in Washington don’t have all the answers,” Foxx said, eliciting laughter from Cantor and Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), who were dressed formally in dark business suits.
“What this bill does is provide a one-stop-shop for people,” Cantor said, “so that there is an ease to flow into these programs and allow Virginia to structure and tailor its workforce programs to match the unfilled jobs that are out there so people can get back to work.”
Cantor, Foxx, and Kline and Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) took a brief tour of the automotive shop, where the lawmakers learned about classes at the college and Cantor got to try on industrial-strength rubber gloves.
The community college president, Robert Templin Jr., said educational institutions needed more flexibility to train students for a projected workforce shortage over the next decade as baby boomers retire. Within the next several years, 600,000 jobs are expected to open up in Northern Virginia alone, he said.