Patty MurrayU.S. Senator Class 3
[D] Washington, United States

Length: 10 minutes, 28 seconds

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Mrs. MURRAY. Madam President, I want to first join with the many Senators today who have strongly condemned the violent attacks against the men and women serving bravely in our diplomatic corps. The senseless murders in Libya are a reminder of the dangers these public servants take on every day and the courage they show in furthering our diplomatic goals all across the globe. We are all so grateful to them. My thoughts and prayers go out to Ambassador Chris Stevens and the other victims of the attack, and I stand with the President, as we all do, in supporting efforts to secure those who continue to serve us abroad.

I have come to the floor today to respond to the statements that were made here earlier, that are completely inaccurate, about the bill we are currently considering on the floor, the Veterans Job Corps bill. In particular, I want to respond to the baseless and frankly offensive charges the Senator from Oklahoma made, insinuating that supporters of this bill don't ``really care about veterans'' and that this bill ``isn't about veterans.'' I have been working on veterans issues in the Senate for nearly two decades and in all of that time, under Democratic and Republican-controlled Senates, under administrations of both parties and in times of war and peace, if there was one issue I have seen that rises above the day-to-day bomb throwing that often characterizes the debate here, it has been the care and benefits for our veterans.

We can certainly disagree about policy, of course. We can fight with all of our hearts for what we think is right. But never--never--have I seen accusations that one party or one group was not fighting for what they believed to be right for our veterans. In fact, the accusations leveled on the floor here earlier today were one of the biggest departures from the spirit of cooperation around veterans issues I have seen in my time in the Senate. So I am here today to set the record straight about the steps this bill takes to put our veterans back to work.

In doing so, I will not question the motives or the degree to which those who may oppose this legislation care for our veterans because, as chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee myself, I see Republicans' commitment every single day. I will not level allegations designed to make our veterans political pawns and I certainly will not mislead anyone about what we have set out to do. I will not because honestly I believe our veterans deserve far better. What they and the American people deserve is the truth.

The truth is that caring for our veterans and helping to provide them with the training they need to find jobs when they return home is a cost of the wars we have fought for the last decade. The truth is that less than 1 percent of U.S. citizens serve and sacrifice for the well-being of the other 99 percent. The truth is that what the Senator from Oklahoma calls a charade is an effort to give those veterans as many avenues as possible to find work. It is an effort to give them the economic security and self-esteem that only a job can provide and that is so essential to their return home.

I understand it has taken some in the Senate a long time to come to grips with the fact that our fiscal commitment we owe to those who wear the uniform does not end the day they are discharged. The truth is, it is not enough to give our veterans a pat on the back for their military service. We also have to give them a helping hand in the job market today. As the jobs report that was released last month reminds us, we have over 720,000 unemployed veterans across the Nation, including over 225,000 veterans who served since September 11. Despite what the Senator from Oklahoma may have said, this bill makes the resources available to all of them. In fact, that is exactly why we brought this bill forward.

What we need right now is an ``all hands on deck,'' ``all of the above'' strategy. That is why in fact this bill includes both Democratic and Republican ideas. This is a bill that will increase training and hiring opportunities for all veterans, using proven job training programs from across the country. For instance, it increases grants under the COPS and SAFER Programs that we have seen work to train and hire qualified veterans to work as police officers, firefighters, [Page: S6256] and other first responders. This is at a time when 85 percent of law enforcement agencies were forced to reduce their budgets last year. It comes at a time when we face a $10 billion maintenance backlog for our public lands. This bill will help training and hire veterans to restore and protect our national, State, and tribal forests, our parks, and our other public lands.

Because training and hiring veterans has never been and should never be an effort that divides us, we have included a host of Republican ideas into this bill. We included a bill from Senator Toomey that gives veterans increased access to computers and Internet tools to help them find jobs in in-demand areas in their own communities. We included a bill sponsored by Senator Boozman that will increase transition assistance programs for eligible veterans and their spouses. And we included a very important provision from Senators on both sides of the aisle that will help force our States to consider the military experience of our veterans when they issue licenses and certifications--something we have all heard when we go home.

We figured this comprehensive bipartisan approach would certainly be enough to gain Republican support, even if it did come as we are, of course, inching closer to an election. But over the course of the last 48 hours or so we have heard that Republicans, including Senator Burr, who is the ranking member of my committee, had an alternative version of the bill that Republicans wanted to push forward. The bill of Senator Burr includes a system to have States certify military experience for jobs skills and helps veterans get hired into the Federal workforce, among a number of other provisions. It appeared to all of us that this late alternative might derail what I believe can be and ought to be a bipartisan effort. But again, we are committed to making this a bipartisan effort. So, instead of showing our veterans that we are just about gridlock and partisanship, here is what we have done.

Because, as I said before, this has to be an ``all of the above'' approach, we have, therefore, added every one of the provisions in the alternative offered by Senator Burr to our bill. Now I believe we have an even more bipartisan, more inclusive bill on the floor right now awaiting action. This is a bill that is paid for with offsets that both Republicans and Democrats have supported. It is a bill unquestionably that represents ideas from both sides of the aisle, including now from the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee.

There is no reason now that Republicans should not join us in passing this bill and passing it quickly, because this does not have to be an either/or situation. Neither party has the magic bullet to solve these problems, so we have to open as many proven opportunities to employment as we can.

You know, veterans are out there watching and waiting. They are tired of excuses and they certainly have no stomach for the kind of political posturing they saw earlier today, that comes only at their expense.

I know some Republicans have pointed to the calendar as the reason for their opposition to this bill. Honestly, I wish it were not September and we did not have to deal with the silly season here in Washington, DC. But who could care less about what month it is or how many days out from an election we are? Here is the issue: Nearly 1 million unemployed veterans are looking for work today. They are concerned about what jobs are available in their communities. Their concern is what training program they can take advantage of and what is being done to honor their two or three tours overseas.

This is a bill now that offers them new resources to answer those questions. It is a bill that will help them serve their community and help them provide honorably for their families. I truly hope now, with the change we have added to the alternative bill offered by Senator Burr, we will have overcome our last hurdle before passage.

I come to the floor today to urge Republicans to join us now in rising above politics as we have done time and time again for our veterans. Ignore the calendar and the never-ending chatter about who is up and who is down. That is not what this is about. This is about making sure our veterans come first this and every week and that we intend to keep our commitment to them for their services.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.