The Politics of Sending Troops to College

By Nitya

May 14, 2008 4:08pm

ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf reports: In the Senate they were supposed to be debating a bill with bipartisan support to give first responders collective bargaining rights in all 50 states.

of a bipartisan bill Wednesday morning to try and attach a proposal by Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee, that would somewhat improve GI Bill benefits currently offered to American service members.

McCain’s bill was crafted as an alternative to a bipartisan proposal that is far more generous to soldiers, paying for almost all of their college education, but would have, according to McCain and Pentagon officials, led troops to flee the military for college. The parliamentary move this morning guaranteed a vote on the McCain alternative first.

Under McCain’s plan, the GI Bill benefit for active duty soldiers who pay the $1,200 enrollment fee would jump from a max of $1,100 per month to $1,500 and to $2,000 for service members with 12 years of service. It would also allow service members to transfer 50 percent of their benefits to family members after six years of service and 100 percent after 12 years.

The more generous bipartisan plan, offered by Sens. Jim Webb, D-Va., Chuck Hagel, R-Neb, and John Warner, R-Va., would pay for the most expensive state school in a veteran’s state and includes a living stipend. Democrats plan to attach that proposal to a $108 billion war spending bill that is set to come before Congress in the coming weeks.

But the move by Republicans Thursday forced supporters of the Webb/Warner bill to cast a vote against a bill to benefit the troops – surely a frustrating vote even if its to be followed by a vote for the more generous GI Bill later on. Democratic leaders spent much of the day trying to figure out their strategy.

The motion to table McCain’s GI Bill was successful at 55-42.

McCain, along with Pentagon and White House officials, have worried that the proposal by Webb — essentially paying for college for American service members — would lead them to get out of the military and adversely affect the war effort and that its too expensive.

Webb and his supporters that the better benefits would entice more recruits to the military.
After the vote on Wednesday, Webb said on the Senate floor that he hoped his bill would ultimately pass.

"Let’s set partisan bickering aside and do something affirmative that will allow the people who have been serving under these arduous times to have a true first-class shot at the future," he said.

McCain reacted to the vote on the campaign trail in Columbus, Ohio on Wednesday and pledged to try and find some common ground with Webb.

“My job is to get people to stay in the military, not only to join, but to stay as well,” McCain said, although he added that he will be sitting down with Webb to try to work out a compromise. He wants to make sure to include a component of his bill which is not in Webb bill that would allow for transferability of benefits to family members.

Democrats in the House today said they’ll add a tax hike for people making over $500,000 per year and couples making $1 million per year to pay for the Webb/Warner legislation. They’re calling the tax hike the "Patriot’s Premium."

ABC News’ Bret Hovell contributed to this post which was updated on Thursday, May 15.

You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus