Partisan bickering over a jobs bill for veterans will punctuate the final hours of Senate action this week before lawmakers head out to the campaign trail.
There are only a few hours of work remaining for Congress as Republicans and Democrats turn their attention to their re-election bids. But until they leave town, both sides will be portraying themselves as productive legislators and their opponents as obstructionists.
Senate Democrats are eager to pass a bill on Wednesday aimed at helping military veterans find work. The Veterans Jobs Corps legislation, costing $1 billion over five years, would help employ veterans on public works projects, such as conservation work and maintaining military cemeteries. The bill would also help vets win jobs as firefighters and police officers.
But Republicans opposed the bill, in part, because of its cost. Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, charged that Democrats were violating congressional rules that prohibit lawmakers from adding to the budget deficit.
Democrats say the bill's costs are covered by a renewed effort to collect as much as $556 million in unpaid taxes over the next five years. They propose seizing the passports of those who owe taxes. They also propose withholding Medicare payments to providers who owe back taxes, which is expected to raise $355 million over 10 years.
Republicans charged that Democrats are using deceptive accounting and said the proposal would bust the spending cap lawmakers agreed to last year by $1 billion.
"This bill violates the budget, violates the principles of common sense and good management and it's typical of the reason this government is on an unsustainable financial path," said Sessions, R-Ala. "It's typical of why we are going broke."
The cost isn't the only reason Republicans want to block the bill.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is trying to add a provision that would cut off aid to Pakistan, Egypt, Libya and Yemen and use the money instead to pay for the jobs bill and reduce the deficit. Paul also wants the bill to prohibit future financial assistance to Pakistan until it frees a doctor who helped the United States locate Osama bin Laden.
"We are going to try everything in our power to get a vote," a Paul spokesman told The Washington Examiner on Monday.
Democrats, meanwhile, accused Republicans of blocking legislation that would aid men and women who served in the military, many of them in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"They are obstructing a measure which would create jobs for the men and women who have risked their lives for the past 11 years to protect our freedom," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a staunch advocate for military veterans, noted that the federal government has already created six jobs programs for veterans, who continue to endure a much higher unemployment rate than the general population.
Senate Democrats should instead be working to avert $500 billion in looming cuts to the Pentagon's budget and pass a defense authorization bill.
"The fact is, " McCain said, "we are not addressing the needs of the men and women in the military."