The big tax cut deal is stuck in the U.S. House for now, but lawmakers did find the time (and bipartisan consensus) to pass an important bill today to help veterans returning from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.
By a 409-3 vote, the House approved the legislation, which passed the Senate earlier this week and now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The bill will make it easier for veterans to use the post-Sept. 11 GI Bill's education benefits to pay for college tuition. Significantly, it will also extend the program to cover veterans seeking job training.
That's important, particularly for younger vets and in California.
Last year, the jobless rate for vets ages 18 to 24 in California was 25.9 percent, compared with 19.8 percent for nonveterans in that age group. That gap is bigger than in the nation as a whole - 21.6 percent of young veterans unemployed, compared with 19 percent of young nonveterans.
"Educating our nation's veterans is an investment in our troops, our economy, and our future; it is also a cost of war," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
"We are expanding opportunities for job training and vocational education, arming our troops with the tools to contribute as workers and entrepreneurs, and taking another step to strengthen our economy," the San Francisco Democrat added.
The measure will also make an estimated 130,000 additional service members eligible for education benefits by covering National Guard members who respond to natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.
The bill is backed by the American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, Military Officers Association of America, the National Guard Association, National Association of Uniformed Services and Student Veterans of America.
"Today's legislation will strengthen the New GI Bill and ensure that all of the veterans who have fought to protect our nation following 9/11 are given the opportunities they deserve upon their return home," Rep. Doris Matsui, a Sacramento Democrat, said in a statement.