President Bush has threatened to veto a new G.I. Bill that passed the House and Senate. The Senate version was proposed by Jim Webb (D-VA) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE). It would pay full tuition and other expenses at a four-year public university for veterans who served in the military for at least three years since 9/11. Bush and other opponents of the bill, which includes Republican nominee John McCain, argue that with an all-volunteer military, the bill would encourage enlistees to serve only one enlistment period. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the new and improved benefits would decrease re-enlistment rates by 16%. Apparent Democratic nominee Barack Obama supports the Webb/Hagel G.I. Bill. Proponents of the bill argue that we owe our veterans the same type of benefits they received following WWII, and that the loss of re-enlistments would be made up by increased numbers of new enlistees seeking the benefits.
Not surprisingly, the New York Times excoriated Bush and McCain in an editorial appearing in it's pages on Memorial Day. The Times editorial board opined:
"[Bush] is wrong, but at least he is consistent. Having saddled the military with a botched, unwinnable war, having squandered soldiers’ lives and failed them in so many ways, the commander in chief now resists giving the troops a chance at better futures out of uniform. He does this on the ground that the bill is too generous and may discourage re-enlistment, further weakening the military he has done so much to break...So lavish with other people’s sacrifices, so reckless in pouring the national treasure into the sandy pit of Iraq, Mr. Bush remains as cheap as ever when it comes to helping people at home... Mr. Bush — and, to his great discredit, Senator John McCain — have argued against a better G.I. Bill, for the worst reasons. They would prefer that college benefits for service members remain just mediocre enough that people in uniform are more likely to stay put...a long-term investment in human capital, in education and job training, there is no good argument against an expanded, generous G.I. Bill".
I think I share the opinion of virtually all Americans when I say that our veterans deserve G.I. benefits after serving their country. What the New York Times left out of it's editorial is that the Webb/Hagel G.I. Bill isn't the only G.I. Bill that was proposed. The Times is, of course, doing this intentionally to mislead it's readers and to have the maximum political impact against Bush and McCain, but the Times does it's readers a disservice (as usual), especially when a competing G.I. Bill has been sponsored by McCain himself. In the McCain version of the new G.I. Bill, benefits are improved along with longer periods of military service, and the benefits are transferable to a soldiers spouse and children, an element missing from the Webb Bill (the Times didn't mention transferability either). The Senate Democrats blocked the McCain version of the G.I. bill. Here's a White House statement responding to the NY Times:
[The New York Times is] expressing its vitriolic opinions - no matter how misleading they may be...[The President] specifically called upon Congress to answer service members' request that they be able to transfer their GI Bill benefits to their spouses and children. Secretary Gates has also laid out guidelines requesting transferability as well as “greater rewards for continued military service in the all volunteer force." The Department of Defense has specific concerns about legislation sponsored by Senator Webb because it lacks transferability and could negatively impact military retention.” Adding, there are many other proposals before the House and Senate and the President “specifically supports” one “proposed by Senators Graham, Burr, and McCain because it allows for the transferability of education benefits and calibrates an increase in education benefits to time in the service.”
Under the McCain version of the G.I. Bill, people with longer military service get better G.I. benefits. That sounds reasonable to me, and so does the transferability option. So does the Webb bill provision. I'm not really taking sides here, other than the side of accuracy. I think the correct course is to craft a bill that combines all the necessary elements. There is a legitimate debate here, along with a golden opportunity for a bipartisan compromise, but we don't need the blatant distortion and demagoguery of the New York Times on this issue, nor do we need the unecessary political games that are being played. For once, it would be nice if politics was set aside and our soldiers could be taken care of as they deserve. Instead, our Senators appear to realize all too well that it is an election year, which is why partisan hacks like Harry Reid (D-NV) make statements like this:
This vote [to strike down the McCain bill] is a message to Bush-McCain Republicans that the U.S. Senate will not stand for political games at the expense of our nation's first responders and veterans," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
It's all about political one-upmanship to Dirty Harry. Our soldiers deserve better.
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