ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf reports: The stage is a major wrap-yourself-in-the-flag, support-the-troops type measure on the floor of the US Senate in the coming weeks and it could have repercussions in the 2008 presidential campaign.
Democrats and some Republicans want to drastically improve college benefits for veterans through the GI Bill sponsored by Virginia Democrat Sen. Jim Webb.
Presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., solidified his position in a paper statement last night, along with the Pentagon and the White House, concerned that the measure could hurt retention in a time of war. In short, if you try to send the troops college, they might just go.
It’s a particularly interesting issue because it pits McCain against his strongest ally across the aisle, Connecticut Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, and high profile Republicans, like Sen. John Warner, R-Va., who is a co-sponsor of Webb’s bill. It has also created a rallying point for veterans groups. Both Democratic presidential candidates are cosponsors of Webb’s bill.
When senators consider the House version of the President’s $108 billion war funding request in the coming weeks, look for Democrats to attach a proposal authored by Webb that would drastically upgrade the Montgomery GI Bill. Instead of receiving a fraction of college tuition (a max of about $3,000 per year), Webb and 54 other Senators from both parties want to make the GI Bill more like it was after WWII, when it paid for all of college, even private schools. They won’t go quite that far, but would offer most veterans who serve in the war on terror — even reserve and national guard who deploy – compensation for the most expensive public school in their state as well as a living stipend.
McCain, along with Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., introduced his own, less generous plan that would encourage troops to stay in the military, increasing benefits more for troops who serve 12 years or more. McCain’s bill would also encourage troops to transfer their GI Bill benefits to family members.
They point to a new report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, requested by Republicans on the Budget Committee that says improving college benefits for troops could lead affect military retention rates by as much as a 16 percent decrease.
Supporters of the Webb bill point to the same study, which says the improved college benefits would lead to a 16 percent increase in recruits overall. Plus, they argue the Webb bill would improve the quality of recruits who come to the military .
Beyond retention, however, Webb and others believe the country owes troops who sacrifice abroad, a good education when they return home.