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Democrats have finally found a use for our armed forces. They may oppose using the military to fight the Taliban or protect our diplomats, but now they've found a project they can get behind: converting our troops into members of the Democratic client groups known as public employee unions.
The moral deformities of the modern Democratic Party could fill volumes, but this effort is particularly odious.
All one really needs to know about The Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012 is that it was introduced by Senators Nelson, Schumer and Murray. That should be sufficient information to justify opposition from any sentient observer.
And perhaps it was enough for the 42 GOP Senators who blocked it. But read on to understand why this patriotic-sounding bill was so pernicious, and why the Senators who blocked it are modern profiles in courage.
In practice, the main thrust of the Act would have been two-fold.
First, it would have raised money by taxing Medicare providers - because, you know, there's so much extra money floating around the health care system that we can afford to use it as a piggy bank for other things.
Second, it would have used the money extracted from the health care system to fund grants or other subsidies to encourage the hiring of veterans, with priority given to veterans serving on or after the 9/11 attacks, in conservation jobs on public lands, and as fire fighters and law enforcement officers.
It does some other unrelated stuff, too, like empowering the IRS to confiscate Americans' passports if they are delinquent on $50,000 or more in taxes. Which makes sense because, if there is one social problem upon which all Americans can agree, it is that the IRS doesn't have enough power over us.
But mostly, the bill would impose new Medicare taxes, in order to subsidize the conversion of veterans into dues-paying public employee union members.
Now, I think we actually can all agree that aiding veterans is a laudable goal.
Not all aid is created equal, however, and in a world of scarce resources, it is reckless to go around levying taxes and establishing subsidies without considering the full range of consequences, including the opportunity costs.
The first question worth asking is whether this is the right type of aid to offer at all. High unemployment among veterans is a scandal, but so is high unemployment among lifelong civilians. Everyone's children need to eat, regardless of their career paths. Rather than creating a caste system wherein we reallocate economic opportunities from one group to another, perhaps Congress' time is better spent looking for ways to increase the economic opportunities available to all Americans. Toward which end, I offer a helpful tip: boosting taxes and government subsidies is unlikely to do so.
The next question is, even if we decide we do want to help veterans crowd other job seekers out of the labor market with subsidies, why do all the jobs Democrats want to put them in happen to entail membership in public employee unions? Is it merely a happy coincidence that this would tend to bind them for life to the Democratic Party - as indirect and unwilling donors via union dues for even the most conservative among them?
A defender of the effort might argue that military training and experience makes veterans uniquely suited to jobs in conservation, fire fighting, and law enforcement. There is surely some truth to this, but to the extent that it is so, then this program is redundant at best, and potentially deeply counterproductive at worst.
It is redundant because to the extent that military training and experience are valuable in these fields, then veterans already have an advantage over competing job seekers based on merit. It is also redundant because many first-responder and related jobs already give a formal preference to veterans.
And this is where it becomes potentially counter-productive. If veterans already have an advantage based on merit, and additional advantages based on preferential hiring practices already in existence, then what does it say about those who require yet another proverbial thumb on the scale? Not everybody, and not even every veteran, is cut out to bear the pressure of a fire fighter, or to wield the authority of a law enforcement officer. There is no shame at all in that, but as a society we should really consider how wise it is to force square pegs into those particular round holes.
The more one thinks through - and inevitably discards as wanting - the alternative justifications for this bill, the more one comes back to the idea that this bill is a deeply cynical effort to manipulate our respect and affection for veterans, in order to secure payoffs to public sector unions.
Once such a program is up and running, it is a much smaller thing to "temporarily" increase funding in a sluggish economy. And of course once veterans are ensconced in these jobs, we will inevitably face pressure to keep the subsidies flowing in order to stave off layoffs.
Veterans' groups naturally supported the bill, and are unhappy with its defeat. This is understandable; the job of veterans' groups is to lobby for veterans. It is not their job to recognize that veterans are not the only highly sympathetic members of society with unmet needs. It is not their job to recognize that every dollar spent subsidizing veterans on the public payroll is a dollar than can't be spent sheltering a homeless man, or caring for the impoverished elderly, or funding pediatric oncology research. Nor is it their job to recognize that a society borrowing $1 trillion per year needs to do less of everything, veterans included.
Recognizing those things are the job of the Congress elected to represent all Americans. Last week, 42 Republican Senators looked at this cynical Democratic scam, surely realizing that they may pay a political price on such an easily demogogued issue - I guess John McCain just doesn't care about veterans, one can almost hear Chuck Schumer lamenting to the nearest television camera - and did their job anyway, blocking the bill.
Senate Republicans deserve our gratitude for doing the right thing instead of the easy thing. Senate Democrats should feel ashamed of themselves, but they won't, because that would require a capacity for shame.