Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The New GI Bill

Could McCain, the veteran who spent years as a POW, get outflanked on military support? New legislation, proposed by Senator Jim Webb (D-Va), would update the GI Bill.
On the day before West Virginia's primary election, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama called for passage of the new GI bill Monday in Charleston... The proposed 21st Century GI Bill would allow soldiers to receive free tuition for college. Obama said it is one of a number of upgrades to GI benefits and health care the federal government should provide.
Under the revised bill, a $1200 buy-in, collected out of GI paychecks over the course of a year, would be eliminated. It would

...essentially guarantee a full-ride scholarship to any in-state public university, along with a monthly housing stipend, for individuals who serve the military for at least three years.

The proposal would give veterans 15 years to use the benefit, instead of the current 10-year limit, and would set up a new government program that matches financial aid by more expensive private institutions.

This is a big increase in money for school:
For a pricey public school — such as Miami University in Oxford, Ohio — that benefit might be worth as much as $31,000 per school year, compared to the $9,900 average benefit that veterans are given now.
Benefits would also accrue more generously over time and would be more readily transfered to family members.

When combined with the wear and tear of a longterm war and the natural appeal of the Obama persona and message of change for young GI's, this measure could permanently change which party military voters support.

John McCain realizes he's being outflanked in a battle over his natural base, but he's opposed to the measure for its expense, and a concern that it is designed to encourage people not to reenlist.

While Democratic leaders say they see a yes-vote on their proposal as a no-brainer for any lawmaker facing voters this fall, the new GI benefits plan has Republicans — and even some members of the more fiscally conservative Democratic rank-and-file — balking at the cost.

"The last thing we want to do is create a situation in which we are losing our men and women who we have worked so hard to train," said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.

Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Richard Burr of North Carolina have proposed an alternative that would boost the maximum monthly stipend for GIs from $1,100 a month to $1,500 a month.

This is a wonderful opportunity for democrats, who find themselves in the happy position of 1) being able to buy the support of a targeted constituency, their stock in trade, and 2) seizing an opportunity that's been handed to them by the GOP, and 3) being on the right side even while spending irresponsibly.

But democrats have a point when they argue that taking care of the troops is part of the cost of war, and they're proposing a tax increase on people making over a million dollars a year to pay for the Webb measure.

The politics is playing out this week:

Democrats are pushing Webb's bill and other domestic add-ons, including a major expansion of state unemployment benefits, as part of a larger $195 billion package that would pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through early next year. A House vote is planned this week.

Ultimately, Democratic lawmakers and their aides say they expect some version of the GI bill will pass eventually, even if they have to strip the domestic add-ons and find money elsewhere in the national budget to offset the costs.

McCain is working feverishly to escape the obvious potential for damage:
It was McCain who instigated a letter to Webb signed by himself and two fellow Republicans on Monday, in an effort to end a standoff between the two Vietnam veterans. Discussions followed Tuesday between Webb and McCain ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and late in the day there was a staff meeting that lasted more than an hour.

It is too early to predict what will come of the discussions, but Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), a former Senate Armed Services Committee chairman who has served as an intermediary of sorts between the Webb and McCain camps, was hopeful.

“I think it’s an exciting chapter. I’m enjoying every minute of it,” Warner told Politico. “We’re going to get it. I’ll bet your bottom dollar we get it. ... I’ll give you odds we’re going to win.”
For an insider's take, read military blogger 'Greyhawk' in his Mudville Gazette.

Thanks to Kevin Whalen at Pundit Review for promoting the work of Milbloggers like Greyhawk, especially to me.

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