HAMPTON, Virginia — President Barack Obama challenged Republicans Wednesday to help put war heroes to work, as his wife Michelle unveiled corporate pledges to create 25,000 jobs for veterans and spouses.
Obama, on the latest leg of his bus tour through key 2012 swing states Virginia and North Carolina, made a new pitch for a $447 billion jobs scheme which was blocked by the Senate, as he now seeks to pass the bill in pieces.
"There are far too many veterans who are coming home and having to struggle to find a job worthy of their talents," Obama said at a military base in the state of Virginia, which will be a key battleground in his reelection bid.
The president noted that when he unveiled his jobs plan in a joint session of Congress in September, members of both parties stood to applaud, and said he hoped a similarly bipartisan spirit would prevail when votes are taken.
"Don't just applaud about it -- vote for it," he said, drawing approval from an audience of several thousand service personnel.
"Standing up for our veterans is not a Democratic responsibility or a Republican responsibility; it is an American responsibility."
In September, Eric Cantor, leader of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives said there was a chance for "meaningful and significant progress" on assisting veterans find work after the battlefield.
But Republicans are blocking a series of other provisions from the bill, and the fate of a $35 billion package to help cash-strapped states forced to lay off teachers and emergency workers remains unclear in the Senate.
Alongside Obama on Wednesday, the First Lady announced a commitment by 270 firms, including Coca-Cola and Unilever, to hire 25,000 military veterans and their spouses over the next two years.
The initiative, under the auspices of the American Logistics Association, is intended to take aim at unemployment rates among military veterans which top the already high national jobless rate of 9.1 percent.
"We ask our men and women in uniform to leave their careers, leave their families, and risk their lives to fight for our country," President Obama said.
"The last thing they should have to do is fight for a job when they come home."
The First Lady added the companies were not committing to hire people "just because it's the right thing to do or the patriotic thing to do.
"They're doing it because it's good for their bottom line. They know that these veterans and military spouses represent the best, and they want them on their team."
The unemployment rate for veterans who have returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in September was 11.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
On the final day of a three-day bus trip which also took in another key 2012 state, North Carolina, Obama was due to wend his way towards Washington, with more stops in rural areas inaccessible to Air Force One.
The journey aboard a sleek, black armored bus bought by the Secret Service, unfolded as Obama struggles to improve his diminished approval ratings and reelection prospects which have been hit by the lagging economy.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »