Tester to help carry vets portion of jobs package

Associated Press

by Matt Gouras

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, heading into a tough re-election battle, announced Friday that he is taking a leading role in moving a portion of the president's jobs agenda that includes a new tax credit for businesses that hire unemployed veterans.

Tester, a Democrat, said he will help shepherd the measure through the Senate next week. Tester said the help for veterans will have bipartisan support, unlike other pieces of President Barack Obama's jobs agenda that have so far languished.

"It is shameful that vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have a higher unemployment rate than the rest of America," said Tester, who has made veterans' issues a hallmark of his first term. "I am calling on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to quickly pass this bill because our veterans deserve no less."

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, another Montana Democrat, has previously backed the tax credits for hiring vets and quickly endorsed the plan.

Politics percolated after it was announced that Tester and two other Democrats facing 2012 re-election battles would be carrying the popular portion of the president's jobs package.

Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, challenging Tester in what many expect to be one of the biggest Senate races in the nation, was cool toward Tester's involvement with the president's jobs package for vets while remaining supportive of the general idea.

Rehberg's office also pointed out that the Republican-led House has already passed several components of the package aimed at helping unemployed vets, such as counseling assistance for military personnel leaving the service and education assistance.

"Denny helped pass legislation like this nearly a month ago," said his spokesman Jed Link.

The biggest piece of the new proposal would give, through new tax credits, as much as $5,600 to businesses that hire an unemployed veteran, and $9,600 for hiring an injured vet. It also melds in past proposals from both sides of the aisle.

Baucus noted that 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are unemployed.

"This bill will make it easier for businesses to hire veterans and help make veterans more competitive in the job market. It's a win for our economy and the right thing to do for our veterans," Baucus said.

Tester said the bill will make it easier for veterans to get civilian certifications for certain jobs, such as truck drivers and engineers. The senator also said the proposal will make sure that military experience counts in the civilian fields. Tester said federal agencies, such as the Department of Transportation, would come out with new guideline to help states change their individual certification requirements.