BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I come to the floor today to talk about the bill that is pending, and I must say: Here we go again. And let me say that what we are doing today, under the auspices of helping returning veterans get jobs--and there is nothing wrong with wanting to do that and there is nothing wrong with trying to pay for that--is really passing a bill for political reasons so we can say we did things, because this is not going anywhere in the House of Representatives.
A couple of points I would make are that, first, yesterday, on the anniversary of 9/11, we started the consideration of this bill, but this bill has had no hearings, no committee work, and essentially no debate until today, despite the fact that it will affect six different Federal agencies, at a minimum.
Before I discuss the bill itself, though, I want to mention another anniversary. One year ago yesterday, SPC Christopher D. Horton, Army SPC Bret D. Isenhower, and Army PVT Tony J. Potter, Jr. were killed in Afghanistan. They were 1 of 13 Oklahomans from the Oklahoma National Guard serving in Afghanistan who paid the ultimate sacrifice--a pure and noble sacrifice. As we debate a bill that will largely benefit those who have safely returned home after serving their country, it is important that we not forget those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, this pure and noble sacrifice for the benefit of the rest of us.
The bill before the Senate provides $1 billion--$1 billion--in mandatory spending. For the folks at home that means it is not subject to appropriations; it will be spent, period, regardless of what we do if we pass this bill and the President signs it--over 5 years for the creation of a new mandatory program called the Veterans Jobs Corps.
One point I will make is that we already have six veterans jobs programs and not one of them has a metric on it to see if it is working. There hasn't been one hearing to see what the jobs programs we are running now are doing, to measure their effectiveness or their cost effectiveness and see if they are actually performing for veterans what we say we want them to do. Yet we have a bill on the floor that didn't go through that committee, where no hearings were held, and we are going to do the same thing again. Because there is not a metric in this bill.
So what is happening here is we are playing the political election card to say, How could anybody oppose a veterans jobs corps bill? The real question to be asked is: How callous is it to put forth a political bill when we have no idea whether it may or may not work, for the pure political purpose of an election, without looking at the whole of the veterans jobs programs? There is not going to be any congressional oversight on this.
Just 2 weeks ago I released a report on job training in my own State. I was highly effective in looking at every Federal Government job training program, veterans and nonveterans alike, in my State. I looked at every State job training program and then published a report. Here is what the report found.
And, by the way, we have 47 other job training programs, of which 90 percent don't have metrics on them, and we spend $19 billion a year on those job training programs.
What we found is that State-run, State-financed, State-supported job training programs work in Oklahoma. We actually take our own money, with our own institutions, with our own individuals and our own employees, knowing what businesses and industry and service industries and institutions need, and we match job training to what those needs are and actually put people to work. Consequently, Oklahoma has a 4.7-percent unemployment rate. So we are highly effective at training people for the jobs that are available. But we are not very effective with the Federal programs.
The assessment in Oklahoma--and I am not sure it applies across the country, but it certainly does in Oklahoma--is that we are very good at employing people in the job training industry but not very good with Federal dollars when it comes to training people a life skill to keep them employed.
This legislation is going to provide $1 billion for the Federal Government to hire veterans on a temporary basis.
I understand that Senator Burr's recommendations are going to be incorporated. That is a marked improvement to the bill. His puts them in line for a career, not a temporary job--which shows the lack of thinking because Senator Burr, the ranking member on VA, couldn't get a hearing. We didn't have a markup, didn't have a chance for ideas to flow through. I am not certain we are going to have amendments. I have four I would like to offer to the bill that are better pay-fors and will actually improve the bill. I am not sure we are going to do that either.
So we didn't have a hearing, and we didn't have a markup. We come to the floor, and we are not going to have amendments. What is this really all about? Is this about veterans or is this about politicians? I suspect it is about politicians. I suspect it is about elections and not veterans.
The legislation grants broad authority to the Department of Justice, Department of Defense, Department of Labor, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Homeland Security, the Interior Department, and the Army Corps of Engineers to hire veterans in jobs such as conservation and first responders.
However, to comply with the pay-go rules, we manipulate the system again. We include revenue increases to equal the cost of the bill. We do that by requiring a continuous levy on payments to Medicare providers and suppliers--which is not a bad idea--and also by denying or revoking passports in cases of seriously delinquent taxes. I have heard that is going to be pulled, but nobody knows. Nobody has seen it. That is why we have committees, so we don't have to play with things before we have a base bill and we know what it will do.
The bill already violates the Budget Control Act's allocation for Veterans Affairs funding. It is subject to a 302(f) point of order because it is outside the bounds of their appropriations.
The bill also states a distinct preference for veterans of the current war in Afghanistan and the most recent war in Iraq by stating that these jobs are primarily for veterans who have served since September 11, 2001.
As with the veterans caregiver bill in 2009, this is blatant discrimination against our other veterans. One class of veterans is better than another class of veterans? Tell me how. Is somebody who died in the Vietnam war less honorable than somebody who has given their life in Afghanistan? Yet we are making that distinction in terms of the benefits available to those who served our country honorably.
So we are blatantly discriminating against veterans who served before 9/11. I would also remind us that those veterans didn't have the post-9/11 GI bill. They didn't have the other significant benefits that have come along and been passed down, both paid benefits, family transfer of the post-9/11 bill, or the educational benefits for in-service that the present veterans have.
Another thing I would remind my colleagues is that right now there is a preference in every branch of the Federal Government for hiring veterans. It is already written into law. Since 1944 the Federal Government has stated that veterans with honorable or general discharges are preferred for hiring in competitive positions and may also be hired without competition in many cases. In other words, they get an absolute preference. Disabled veterans get even a higher preference over nondisabled veterans. Veterans also have priority in retention in terms of government downsizing: If you were a veteran, you don't get downsized; if you are not a veteran, you will.
Senator Burr's bill--which it appears the majority will take and add to their bill rather than replace their bill--will direct the Office of Personnel Management to require that each of the 10,000 job vacancies presently in the Federal Government today should be filled by veterans. This would actually provide a real career path for veterans, not a temporary make-work job slot that will go away as soon as the $1 billion runs out.
According to a 2011 GAO report, there are six job training programs, which I have outlined, already on the books. They are not working, but they are on the books, and we are spending money on them. We have no metrics to know whether they are working. We have had no oversight hearings to know whether they are working. None has ever been held.
There is the Labor Department's Disabled Veterans Outreach Program. It does job readiness, skills training, retention training, and employment counseling.
The Labor Department's Homeless Veterans Reintegration Project does everything the first one I mentioned does.
The Labor Department's Veterans Employment Representative Program does exactly the same thing as the first two.
The Labor Department's Transition Assistance Program does job search and job readiness training.
The Labor Department's Veterans Affairs Workforce Investment, again, does all the same tasks as the first two I mentioned.
The Veterans Affairs' Rehabilitation for Disabled Veterans Program does nearly everything from job training to employment counseling to job referral to on-the-job training to basic adult literacy.
This bill and those training programs are in addition to the post-9/11 GI bill and the Tuition Assistance Program, which provides 100 percent tuition assistance plus expenses, plus a monthly stipend salary for unemployed or any other veterans to attend college, vocational training, pursue licensure, with fees paid for by the Federal Government, and allows them to transfer this benefit to their spouses.
The question I have, with that benefit--and we are doing another one now for political purposes, not because we really care about veterans--why isn't this one working? We are going to spend billions on the post-9/11 GI bill, and we are going to pay them at the rate of a noncommissioned officer all the time they are going to college. Why isn't that working? Where is the oversight hearing to see why what we just did 2 years ago isn't working?
Instead, what we are going to do is--which the Congress has done under both Democrats and Republicans--we are going to throw in more money and do another one. Instead of measuring what works and measuring what we are doing, we are going to create another program. Granted, supposedly it is only 5 years.
When it comes to 5 years, what will happen whether it works or not? Nobody will vote against extending the veterans program, will they? How can anyone be against veterans?
So we would not do the hard work of having committee hearings; we would not do the oversight. We would not even change this bill to make sure it has absolute metrics on what it is doing. So we are continuing down the road to bankruptcy, all in the name of putting a bill--that isn't going to pass the House--on the Senate floor so two or three Members of the Senate can go home and claim they did something.
I think it is hypocritical. I don't think it matches the pure valor of the three individuals I mentioned. It doesn't come close. It doesn't measure up. Those 13 Oklahomans who died in Afghanistan this last year from the Oklahoma National Guard, the Thunderbirds, represented the real value of America. This bill doesn't.
The post-9/11 GI bill pays 100 percent of the highest cost public school in any State. So veterans can go to the best public school paid for completely by the government if they are a post-9/11 veteran. They can get the same equivalent pay as a noncommissioned officer the time they are going. That is what we have already got out there.
Without this legislation, today any unemployed veteran who can get into a community college can go for free, receive 3 years' of pay, all their expenses paid, their housing paid--all of those things paid.
Well, if that isn't working, why isn't it working? Where is the hearing to find out why that isn't working? No, we are just going to pass another bill without a hearing, without a committee markup, for politically expedient purposes. Oh, it is just $1 billion.
Where is our honor? Where is our valor? Where is our sacrifice?
The Department of Defense Tuition Assistance Program, another program, while you are in the military, is paid for. All you have to do is make a C or better--online, off line, whatever way you want to go.
So let me summarize: We have the Tuition Assistance Program, we have the post-9/11 GI bill, we have the GI bill, we have six separate VA job programs. We have a bill on the floor to do another one, and nobody is asking the question: What is wrong with what we are doing now, and why aren't we fixing it?
If what we are doing now isn't working, why aren't we fixing that? Why aren't we going to allow amendments to fix things? Why are we going to fill the tree and not allow the process that our Founders for designed the Senate to work so that all ideas could be considered?
No, this is a political exercise. I am going to call it what it is. This isn't about veterans; this is about politicians. My hope is that we wake up before our country fails.
When I came to the Senate, the average family's responsibility for public debt per individual was $26,000. Within the 8 years I have been here, it is now 51,400 and some-odd dollars. We are playing a game. We are thinking short term. We are worried about political careers and elections, but we are not worried about the country. This is about the greatest example of the incompetence of the Congress of United States I have ever seen.
I am for helping veterans, I am for paying for it, and I am for making sure they get rewarded for their service and their sacrifice. This bill isn't it. This is a charade. That is exactly what it is. To call it anything else dishonors the service of those who have defended and protected our country.
I yield the floor.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT