Friday, June 20, 2008

New GI Bill Survives the Right Way, the Congressional Way and the Bush Way

When it comes to updating the 64-year-old GI Bill, a military adage comes to mind: There is the right way, the wrong way and the President Bush way. After reaching a more costly compromise that would avert Bush’s veto pen, the House voted Thursday to approve the 21st-century GI Bill.

Bush is expected to sign the latest version of the bill, which prompted Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., to issue a statement regarding the president’s pledge. “For the past 17 months, I and my staff have been working every day to provide first-class educational benefits to those who have served since 9/11,” Webb said. “I am delighted that after having opposed this legislation, the President has now pledged that he will not veto it when it comes before him as part of this year’s supplemental appropriations package.

“I would like to again express my appreciation to the veterans’ service organizations, many of whom communicated their support of this bill directly to a skeptical White House, and to the 58 Senate and 302 House cosponsors of this landmark legislation,” Webb said. “This bipartisan coalition consistently rejected the allegations of this Administration, and of Senators McCain, Burr and Graham, among others, who claimed that the bill was too generous to our veterans, too difficult to administer and would hurt retention.”

While simultaneously praising the passage of the war-funding bill, Republican presidential nominee John McCain of Arizona voiced his reservations: “I am pleased an agreement has finally been reached to fund our troops,” McCain said in a statement. "That [retention] has always been my primary concern with respect to the Webb bill, and it is essential that we continue to act decisively to encourage military service and ensure the well being of our All Volunteer Force.”

The Congressional Way

But how the bill finally reached Bush’s desk gives new meaning to the definition of quagmire.

The bill, originally introduced by Webb, had bipartisan support early on, but it hit a few snags in Congress, including the threat of a revolt from members of the Blue Dog Democrats and objections from McCain.

McCain, who sided with the Bush administration’s reasoning in refusing to support Webb’s version, offered his own version, which was immediately shot down in the Senate. Citing the same reasons as Bush did in explaining why the president planned on vetoing the measure, McCain objected to giving veterans, after serving only a few years, an education benefit equivalent to the tuition of a state’s highest-priced public institution. McCain voiced concerns that Webb’s bill would persuade service members to leave the military early and pursue higher education.

Webb’s version passed with overwhelming bipartisan support by a vote 75-22. McCain, however, was AWOL on the day of the vote, reportedly raising money in California for his presidential bid.

The bill moved to the House, where it initially appeared it would receive veto-proof support from both parties. However, some members of the moderate Blue Dog Democrats threatened to revolt, citing the "pay as you go" budget rules that require new benefit programs be financed with offsetting spending cuts or new taxes so as not to increase the budget deficit. They argued that the war funding bill is an emergency appropriation, but the veterans' education funding is a new mandatory benefit program that's supposed to be subject to the budget rule.

"It's the principle involved of not putting a mandatory program of any kind on an emergency supplemental," Rep. John Tanner, D-Tenn., told the AP.

However, not all the Blue Dogs shared this view or threatened to revolt, including Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, a 20-year Army veteran, who was one of the 277 House members co-sponsoring the new legislation.

Boswell's chief of staff, Susan McAvoy, told the Iowa Independent that the opposition was not officially endorsed by the Blue Dog coalition. "Boswell informed his colleagues where he stood prior to any debate on the bill," McAvoy said. "Rep. Boswell is very supportive of veterans and would not do anything that would keep the new GI Bill from moving forward in the House."

Despite the House’s most recent compromise with the administration, some of the Blue Dog Democrats are still upset with the $62 billion price tag on the GI Bill benefits, which will be added to the deficit instead of being “paid for” as called for under House rules.

The Bush Way

All during the congressional process, Bush had threatened to veto the new GI Bill because of the costs, but ironically, the administration pushed for a compromise that would boost the funding an additional $10 billion over 10 years.

The White House wanted to add a provision that would allow troops to transfer their educational benefits to their spouses or children.

In an interview with the AP, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., responded to the White House push: "It's like the Yogi Berra story: 'I don't like that restaurant. Besides, the portions aren't large enough. They don't like it, but they want more."

"It's not a bad idea," Pelosi added. "It just costs money."

And it looks like the compromise process yielded just that: a GI Bill that will cost more money.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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