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Senators holding up a vote on a veterans jobs bill came under blistering criticism Thursday afternoon during a phone-in press conference with Senate Veterans Affairs Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray and Sen. Ben Nelson, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The legislation, which is largely made up of provisions originated by or co-sponsored by GOP Senators, is currently being held up by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who says he will filibuster the bill until a doctor jailed in Pakistan for helping the U.S. locate Osama bin Laden is freed.
But other Republicans have offered different reasons for not letting the bill go to a vote, said Murray. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., justified not voting on the bill because the House of Representatives would block it, according to Murray.
"That's an argument that can be made about every effort we've made to create jobs there in the Senate," she said.
With Murray on the conference call was Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Neb., and Tom Tarantino, the chief policy officer for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Nelson called passage of the Veterans Job Corps bill "a moral issue."
He pointed out that unemployment among young veterans, those 24 and younger, is at 19 percent. That is more than twice the unemployment figure for all veterans as of 2011, according to federal jobs figures.
The five-year, $1 billion Veterans Jobs Corps bill would increase training and hiring opportunities for all veterans, but would include set asides for those whose military specialties might direct them to law enforcement, emergency medical technician, or firefighting, according to Nelson.
The program would also train vets for work in the nation's national and state parks and cemeteries. Nelson said the government has already deferred more than $11 billion in park maintenance.
Tarantino, a former Army captain who served in the Iraq War, said unemployed veterans don't care about campaigning politics or inside-Washington procedural tricks.
"What they care about is knowing that their government [has] their back," he said. "You know, if I put my life on the line for my country, will my country be there for me when I need it to be?"
For all the "political tricks" now underway, however, Tarantino said that Congress has, for the most part, delivered for veterans over the past few years.
"They've all agreed on multiple bills" for veterans, he said, and IAVA assumed the Veterans Job Corps bill would be an easy sell.
He said IAVA member are about a third Republican, a third Democrat and a third Independent, and more than 90 percent are registered voters.
"I don't think this is largely the Republican caucus holding this up. I think this is a small group of people trying t play politics and obstructing the process," he said.
On the Senate floor Thursday afternoon, the hold-up was Rand Paul's determination to get Dr. Shakil Afridi sprung from a Pakistan jail, according to United Press International. Paul said he would stall Senate action until the Afridi is released, UPI reported.
Afridi was linked to the CIA operation to verify bin Laden's whereabouts in Abbottabad and a tribal court sentenced him to 33 years in prison for aiding the U.S.
Murray said other Republicans have used other reasons to hold up the veterans bill, however, including Sen. Jeff Sessions, R- Ala., claiming Congress had already funded many veterans bills and the jobs act would violate the Budget Control Act on new programs because it's not funded.
"So what they're saying is we should not make any more investments in our veterans, even if they're paid for," Murray said. "They're saying that in a time of war, when suicide rates are continuing to rise, when unemployment rate for young veterans is unacceptably high, [that] we've done enough. And I won't accept that."
Murray said that Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate majority leader, promised to keep the lawmakers in session until 1 am Friday to have a chance to vote on it.
"Regardless, this bill will be completed tonight," she said.