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Democrats' Odd Legislative Strategy Backfires on Veterans


"We're disappointed and would hope the Senate will act on the stand-alone bipartisan bill."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. pauses while speaking with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, following a Senate Policy Luncheon. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) AP Photo/Cliff Owen

The Senate missed an opportunity this week to create new incentives for companies to hire veterans, after Senate Democrats decided to link a veterans job bill to broader tax legislation.

Back in March, the House easily passed legislation that would let companies hire veterans without having them count as full-time employees under Obamacare. That would create a strong incentive to hire veterans — companies with more than 50 full-time workers have to offer health insurance to their employees, and not counting veterans makes it easier to stay under that threshold.

Veterans like retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Thomas Gipson, of Atlanta, right, are facing a higher unemployment rate that non-military job seekers. A bill to help veterans find work more easily was delayed in the Senate on Thursday. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

The Hire More Heroes Act, from Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) had strong support in the House, and it passed in a 406-1 vote.

But instead of simply taking up the House bill and passing it, Senate Democrats decided to use the Hire More Heroes Act as a vehicle to pass an extension of dozens of tax breaks for families and businesses (the same tactic used to pass the original Obamacare legislation).

And then Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) tried a maneuver that has failed routinely in the last few weeks, and was destined to fail again: Reid once again told Republicans that he opposed consideration of any amendments to the bill.

Republicans have pointed out for months now that Reid routinely tries to pass bills without allowing any input from senators in the form of amendments, and on Thursday, Republicans said Reid was preventing all senators from representing their constituents.

"This body exists to ensure that the citizens of this country have a say in what our government does," Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) said. "The Senate is supposed to be the citadel of our democracy, the place where we guarantee that no one in the country is cut out of the legislative process."

"It is a gag order on the American people we represent," he said of Reid's maneuver.

McConnell even offered a plan allowing senators to vote on an equal number of Republican and Democratic amendments, but that was rejected by Reid. After that, Republicans saw little choice but to vote against advancing the combined bill until they were given the right to offer amendments.

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) is the House sponsor of the Hire More Heroes Act, and he was initially thrilled that the Senate was considering his bill this week.

"I'm humbled by the support that we've seen for this legislation… and hope the Senate moves quickly on final passage to get this commonsense bill to the president's desk," he said Tuesday.

But when Reid's tactic crashed and burned, a spokesman for Davis called on the Senate to take up his bill on its own, with no strings attached.

"We're disappointed and would hope the Senate will act on the stand-alone bipartisan bill which passed with more than 400 votes in the House in March," said Andrew Flach, a spokesman for Davis.

The Senate left Washington Thursday with no firm plans on whether or when to consider the Hire More Heroes Act. But given the overwhelming support for the bill, the Senate could act as early as next week to pass it.

The House passed the bill just as reports were being released saying that veterans continue to face higher unemployment levels than other workers. In 2013, their unemployment rate was 9 percent, higher than the roughly 7 percent rate for non-military job seekers.

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