ABC News’ Z. Byron Wolf reports: Sen. John McCain did not vote last month when Senators passed their version of a war funding emergency supplemental. But he said the bill being considered then was overloaded with funding for non-war related projects and he objected to a sweeping new benefit for veterans to get the equivalent of state college tuition and a living stipend after only a few years service because he worried it would affect military retention rates.
But, with the addition of a clause allowing service members to transfer their benefits to family members, McCain now supports the 21st Century Bill of Rights, the proposal to give substantially more benefits to veterans for college after their service in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he’ll support a deal between the White House and House Democrats to fund the war along with $21 billion in domestic spending.
In a written statement from his Senate office — while he never explicitly says he’ll vote for it — the Arizona Republican praises a deal between White House and Congressional negotiators for a war funding bill that includes the GI Bill, and $21 billion in non-war-related funding like a three month extension of unemployment benefits and emergency funding for Katrina and Midwest flood relief.
Cut out of the bill are billions in low income heating fuel assistance and grants for state and local law enforcement agencies. Last month, he called a similar but more expensive version of the supplemental war funding bill "bloated" and "loaded down with extraneous provisions unrelated to the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Today, McCain’s Senate office released a written statement which read:
“I am pleased an agreement has finally been reached to fund our troops… Fortunately, it is reported that an agreement between the House, Senate, and Administration is imminent, and urgently needed funding will be enacted shortly not only to aid our troops, but to fund several emergencies throughout our nation, particularly in the Midwest. We need to provide federal assistance to these flood damaged communities as soon as possible."
When the Senate had considered its version of the war supplemental, McCain had argued, along with the White House and the Pentagon, that the new GI Bill, which got support from a veto-proof majority of Senators, would encourage service members to leave the military. He had offered a less generous counterproposal that would have given service members a much smaller credit for college and given better benefits to people who served longer.
It would also have allowed veterans to transfer their benefits to family members. This last point is addressed in the compromise with a clause to allow veterans to transfer their benefits. But the benefits themselves will be at the higher level endorsed by Sens. Jim Webb, D-VA, Chuck Hagel, R-Neb, and John Warner, R-VA.
"That 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," McCain said in the written statement.
"With the addition of the transferability provisions sought by Senators Graham, Burr, myself and others to give service members the right to transfer earned G.I. Bill benefits to spouses and children, we will have achieved in offering vastly improved educational benefit while also offering incentives for continued service by the most capable, experienced NCO’s and officers. Our courageous NCO’s and officers called for this option, and I believe that its inclusion in this bill will help maintain retention levels in all the Services where it needs to be for the well being of the All Volunteer Force and our Nation.”
It is likely that McCain’s opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, will oppose the final supplemental funding bill because it does not include a binding requirement for the phased withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Obama has publicly supported the GI Bill proposal.
The White House supports the new supplemental bill including the GI Bill portion, and that presumably means the Pentagon agrees with it too.