Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid made the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
Yesterday my friend, the Republican Leader, ticked off a list of bills he believes Democrats and Republicans can agree on.
I couldn’t help but notice that VOW to Hire Heroes legislation that would give tax cuts to companies that hire out-of-work and disabled veterans wasn’t on that list.
This bill ought to be free of even the whiff of controversy.
House Republicans already voted for a major component of the bill — a plan to give older veterans access to job training so they can keep up with a rapidly-changing workplace and help young veterans transition from active duty service to the civilian workplace.
The bill wouldn’t add a dime to the deficit, so there should be no objection there. It’s paid for with the non-controversial extension of an existing fee on VA-backed mortgages. It’s a version of the same pay-for House Republicans already voted for.
Republicans have supported tax credits for companies that hire out-of-work and disabled veterans in the past, so that can’t be the holdup.
And we’ll pass this important legislation as an amendment to a bill, sent over from the House, to repeal a 3 percent withholding from government contractors. Republicans have been champing at the bit to pass this measure, so the House vehicle for VOW to Hire Heroes is not the source of their radio silence.
There are no procedural or philosophical hurdles to passing this bill. But don’t take my word for it.
This is what Jeff Miller, the Republican Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs said about our bipartisan legislation yesterday:
“Today, we are putting aside politics and putting America’s veterans first. This is the how the process should work… The VOW Act, which passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support, provides the framework for this legislation and gets to the root of many of the employment problems our veterans face.”
And with nearly a quarter of a million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans unemployed, this legislation can’t come a moment too soon.
Yet Senate Republicans have remained curiously silent on this bill.
It is inconceivable that my Republican colleagues believe this legislation to be unnecessary. But it also seemed unthinkable that Republicans would unanimously oppose legislation to create hundreds of thousands of jobs for teachers, police officers, fire fighters and construction workers.
So let me be clear what is at stake here.
The number of unemployed, post-9/11 veterans has gone up by 30,000 in the last year alone. Nearly 250,000 men and woman who volunteered to fight overseas for the flag — and the freedoms and privileges it represents — can’t find a job here at home.
And that number will only grow as two wars draw to a close.
One in five young veterans — veterans under the age of 25 — is unemployed.
On any given night, 76,000 veterans, including 2,500 in Nevada, sleep on the streets.
Over the course of a year, that number doubles. Nearly 145,000 veterans spend at least one night a year in shelters or other temporary housing.
We should all be able to agree that even one night is too many for our nation’s heroes to pass without a roof over their heads.
And young veterans are more than twice as likely as their peers to be homeless, and four times as likely to live in poverty.
During tough economic times when some young people join the military for a way to escape the cycle of poverty, this statistic is shocking and disheartening.
So I call on the Minority Leader and the rest of my Republican colleagues to break the silence. Where do they stand on the VOW to Hire Heroes Act?
I ask my Republican colleagues, do you believe we should lend a helping hand to those who defend our freedom? Or do you think this nation’s responsibility to its veterans ends the day they take off the uniform?
Andrew Carnegie once said that the older he got, the less mind he paid to what men say. “I just watch what they do,” Carnegie said.
I remind my Republican friends, the men and women of the United States Armed Forces — those who wear the uniform today and those who wore it once — are watching what you do today.