BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. NELSON of Florida. Madam President, the Senator from Alabama knows the personal friendship we have and my high regard for him and the privilege I have had working with him over the years. It has been a working relationship.
Regardless of what one feels about a budget and a budget point of order, we are talking about a technicality to kill a bill to help unemployed veterans at a time they desperately need help because they are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan and they can't find work. Until we come out of the recession--and the recovery is under way, but veterans have a higher percentage of unemployment and especially veterans under age 24 have an even higher percentage of unemployment. So what we have is a piece of legislation to give an employment cushion for veterans for at least a year, until they can find employment in the private sector.
This is employment to do things we need, since so many of our national resources, such as parks and emergency responders and firefighters and police, need help. Look at all of the deterioration in the national parks. This would be an opportunity to employ those veterans and to employ them up to a year. Everybody knows this makes common sense and it is the right thing to do.
What is happening is the folks on that side of the aisle, because we are in an election year and because this happened to be a proposal coming out of the White House and is brought to the floor by this Senator from Florida, are not going to support it, and they are going to kill it on a technicality by denying us 60 votes in order to waive the budgetary point of order. That is the bottom line. That is what is going on here, and it is sad. Yet that is what is happening.
Look at the votes in the last week. We passed the motion for cloture on the motion to proceed by 95 to 1. Doesn't that tell us something? Then we had the second procedural vote which was 84 to 8. All we need is 60 votes to get over this hurdle and to get to the bill and then probably pass it by unanimous consent because everybody agrees with the substance of the bill. It is clear that commonsense legislation that has bipartisan support is getting thwarted in this Chamber. We all know how important it is to help our veterans find work as they return home.
Does the Senator from Oklahoma want to ask a question? The Senator from Oklahoma knows my respect for him and my personal friendship for him. I admire the Senator for the courageous stance he takes. But I hope the Senator from Oklahoma understands--and I respectfully say that--for a need so great as unemployed veterans, this is not the time to draw a technical line on a budget. I would earnestly and respectfully request of my friend that this be one of the considerations he would make.
Does the Senator wish to engage in any conversation? If not, I will complete my remarks.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. NELSON of Florida. OK. Then what I would suggest to my friend--and he knows he is my friend--if we have a difference of opinion, I respect that, and I would like him to share that. I wish to complete my very brief statement and then the Senator from Oklahoma may make whatever statement he wishes to make.
The unemployment rate among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is hovering around 11 percent, and for those unemployed veterans age 24 and less it is even higher. We have taken steps to combat this problem. This past summer we passed legislation that will help veterans get Federal occupational licenses when their military training matches civilian requirements. That made sense. That made common sense. As a matter of fact, we got that through the Senate unanimously and it was signed into law. The bill recognized that a veteran gets all of this specialized training and they ought to be able to utilize that training without having to go through all the retraining and the relicensing. We could do that--and what we passed is now law--we could do that in Federal employment where there is a similar kind of requirement.
What is in this bill is to do that for the State occupational requirements; to take a veteran who has a military discipline--a specialty--as that veteran is applying for a private sector job that happens to be covered by State law on the occupational requirements and requirements of licensing, that it is a consideration, instead of the veteran having to go through all of that again. That makes common sense.
That particular idea was offered by the Senator from Arkansas, Mr. Pryor, and it is a part of the bill. Also, Senator Murray, who is here on the floor and who is the chairman of the committee, reached out and incorporated a number--and she can address that--of the different bipartisan ideas and not just my idea, which is the one I was talking about wherein veterans can have employment up to a year--but so many others that are incorporated into the bill that came out of committee.
So we already did something about matching civilian requirements, albeit what was signed into law was just with regard to Federal employment.
Also, last year we passed a bill that granted tax benefits to companies that hire wounded warriors. Of course, we know what inspiration all the rest of us take from the wounded warriors. The Senator from Oklahoma and I from time to time go to Bethesda to what used to be called Bethesda Naval and now is the combined, all-military services Walter Reed. For every one of us who goes out there and suddenly sees these veterans coming in who are on these new kinds of computer-controlled prostheses where they can actually walk and run, even when their leg has been blown off above the knee, it pulls at our hearts and yet we are so glad that technology has moved forward. But those same ladies and gentlemen need jobs. Until the recovery is complete, they are having difficulty. That is why I filed this bill. The chairman of the committee and the ranking member have done their best to work across the aisle.
Veterans don't care to hear about why we can't help them. They don't care to hear about technicalities of a budget point of order. They want our country to support them in the way they have supported us, and that is an obligation. A lot of us in this Chamber have served in the military. I think it is engrained in every Senator here that we have an obligation to those who have served this country.
This effort here today that we are going to vote on in 20 minutes has
broad support from veterans and police organizations. The Disabled American Veterans, the Military Officers Association of America, the National Association of Police Organizations, and the American Legion all support it. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America have called and pleaded for its immediate passage. They know why: Because of their veterans' need to know that Congress has their back.
So I would make a plea to the Senate. We just need a few votes from that side of the aisle to get to the threshold of 60 to waive the technicality of the budget point of order.
I look forward to the comments of my friend, the Senator from Oklahoma.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. NELSON of Florida. Madam President, before the chairman of the committee uses the time reserved for her, I wish to respond to my friend from Oklahoma--and he is my friend--by telling him why I think he is wrong on this issue and telling him by way of a compliment to him because the Senator from Oklahoma and I, the Senator from Florida, had worked together, he being much more prominent in the efforts, to bring the budget under control 1 year ago.
In having discussions across the aisle--often private discussions--what started as a rump group known as the Gang of 6 that grew and blossomed into what, in effect, became a group of 45--and I think that was the number of us who stood in the Senate Press Gallery in the summer 1 year ago; it was the summer of 2011--and we said we wanted a big $4 trillion-plus budget deficit, and we pointed out ways we could get there.
Indeed, what this Senator has said--and I have heard other Republican Senators who feel and have said very close to identical things publicly; and I will name one and that is Senator Lindsey Graham and he stated it on ``Meet the Press'' a couple months ago--that the way we get there is producing revenue through reform of the Tax Code by going after all the tax preferences which have ballooned out of control since the last tax reform bill in 1986, that this Senator, then a young Congressman, voted for, to the point that tax expenditures, tax preferences are now $14 trillion over 10 years. A lot of them have outlived their usefulness. For a lot of them, their special interests or sponsors would tell us: We would not want that if we could have a certainty of a lower rate.
Therefore, we have said many times on this floor and in public statements, we can take tax preferences, restrain them, and use that revenue to do two things: lower everybody's tax rates, including corporate, streamline the Tax Code by getting all this underbrush of preferences out of the way, and then use the rest of the revenue to lower the deficit.
I suspect the Senator and I feel very similar about that issue. So when he talks about reforming the spending process, the fiscal process which includes the revenue process of this country, then I think we have grounds for significant agreement, and I would hope we are going to address that in the lameduck session that starts.
My plea is that we do not take it out, in this particular case, on something that can be done immediately for veterans in need returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT