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May 23, 2008
"GI Bill" Passes Senate, Moves Headlong to it's DeathBy Greyhawk
A pre-Memorial Day weekend update on the new GI Bill. Once again, I'll steal Lt Nixon's good, bad, and ugly approach, because it (unfortunately) fits so well.
The Senate has passed the Webb GI Bill 75-22. The House passed it last week.
That was all the good news. But there's plenty of news left. In fact, the bad and ugly portions are so disproportionately long on this one that it's arguable whether "good" even applies. "That's nice" might be a better header. Here's why.
1. The GI Bill is attached to the war funding bill, which President Bush has vowed to veto if it included anything beyond his request. But the GI Bill supporters - and I'm one of the staunchest - say that benefits to the troops are part of the cost of war.
But billions more in domestic spending aren't.
The Senate measure extends unemployment benefits for 13 weeks, funds levee construction around New Orleans, and guarantees that veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will receive education benefits equal to the tuition at the most expensive state universities.The Bill contains so many domestic pet project add-ons that no single mainstream media report can even capture them all.
The bill also contained $490 million for grants to local police departments, $451 million to repair roads damaged by natural disasters, $200 million for the space shuttle program, and $400 million for National Institutes of Health research projects.While the President might have passed the larger funding bill with only the education benefits tacked on, a veto now is certain.
2. The Bill must now be reconciled with the House version. In an amazing display of ineptitude, the House passed the military funding Bill last week without the military funding - but with the new GI Bill, along with billions in domestic spending, a demand that US troops withdraw from Iraq, and a tax increase. That reconciliation step can't begin until after the week long Memorial Day recess.
The AP says "Because of the differences between the two versions, it will take weeks to pass a final compromise, which Bush is expected to veto, and then send him one [a military funding bill] he can sign."
The odds of veterans getting a GI Bill we deserve might be more remote than ever.
The Politico might be the only site reporting on this issue that's willing to present the actual issues:
But unless adjustments are made, the entire wartime bill faces an almost certain veto fight with the president. The question is whether cooler heads will prevail and Congress and the White House will begin some negotiation to avoid another veto fight, which is not necessarily to the advantage of either side.Others are playing "make believe" - pretending that the GI Bill is stand-alone legislation opposed by Senator McCain and President Bush.
The reality is that the new GI Bill passed on the votes of
1. Democrats and Republicans who sincerely want the benefit for the troops.
2. Republicans who might otherwise have opposed the Webb bill (in favor of the Republican alternative - more on that shortly) but are seen as too vulnerable on the issue in their re-election bids this year.
3. Democrats who want to create a GI Bill that has no chance of passing, then hammer their opponents for not allowing it to pass.
...and was opposed by
4. Republicans who supported the alternative bill proposed by Senator Graham of South Carolina. (The only U.S. Senator currently serving in the Guard or Reserves.)
But it's virtually impossible to distinguish the members of group one from those in two and three - especially when the media coverage won't acknowledge the political posturing of group three that in turn forces the political posturing of group two, a media that instead merely touts the "strong bipartisan support" for the bill.
Unfortunately, some veteran's groups are willing to play along:
For the 22 Senators opposing this crucial legislation, I can only express my disappointment. For them, partisanship came before patriotism. (Three Senators were not present for the voting, including Senator Kennedy, who was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor, and Senator McCain, who was at a fundraising event in California.)While paraphrasing President Bush's "with us or against us" line here will have a strong appeal to a certain segment of the population, that argument would be valid only if the Bill was a stand-alone, or even if it was the only add-on to the larger funding Bill. Sadly, that's not the case. But that point is ignored by IAVA, and their willingness to provide cover to those who created this monstrosity is disappointing at the very least. True advocates of the GI Bill - or veteran's issues in general - aren't going to issue a free pass to the group three folks above.
And that's where Democrats handed Republicans a golden opportunity - one that Republicans were far too stupid to notice. The GOP could have enthusiastically supported the Webb bill from the beginning, and if they had could effectively hammer those Democrats who set it up for failure last week in the House and this week in the Senate. Instead, they chose to offer an alternative bill. Submitted by Senator Graham, it was also a generous improvement on the current GI Bill, but offered benefits on a sliding scale that rewarded continued service, and added an option that would allow troops to transfer the benefit to their dependents. Webb's Bill neglected both of these provisions.
But initially the Graham Bill fell short on other issues. For instance, it failed to eliminate the "buy in" (under the Montgomery GI Bill the lowest ranking troops were forced to elect to have their pay reduced their first year in service if they wanted to receive the benefit years later). But The Politico reports that Graham's Bill has subsequently been improved:
Both groups would see their benefits improved from current law under both bills. And trying to compete with Webb, the McCain alternative has been modified to offer a richer package to help pay for books, for example or forego fees charged enlistees. But on balance, Webb is much more generous to veterans, while McCain’s first priority is career personnel, including a costly proposal to allow an Air Force NCO, for example, to transfer his education benefits to his children.Note, however, that as with most media coverage the excerpt above leads the reader to believe that Graham's Bill is actually John McCain's. While he supports it, it's as much McCain's bill as Webb's is Obama's. (More on that shortly.) Likewise, while a claim that Webb's bill is more generous to a larger number of veterans is accurate, the statement that "Webb's Bill is more generous to veterans" is untrue. Graham's bill offers better benefits to those who served beyond one term.
But all comparisons of the two bill's are moot except this one: a Republican bill has no chance for success in a Democrat-controlled legislature. Thus in many regards the folks in group four above are no better than the folks in group three, supporting a Bill that has no chance in hell of passing.
However, group four folks are identifiable, their votes are on record, and as previously noted group three members are not. And that's where the Republicans have screwed themselves (and veterans) completely and utterly on this issue when they didn't have to in the first place.
The even uglier:
As noted in an earlier discussion on this topic (Obama Goes for Joe), Senator Obama had already telegraphed that his initial assault on John McCain would be over this issue. That's a brilliant stroke, because it will cost McCain votes from military members and their supporters, and that loss of support will be widely touted by the media for the same reasons that the actual issues over the GI Bill won't. (See How Republicans "lost" the Military Vote).
And now, just in time for Memorial Day, the story begins to make it's way to the front pages. During the Senate debate, Obama (feigning ignorance of why McCain opposed Webb's GI Bill) said "I respect Senator John McCain's service to our country, but I can't understand why he would line up behind the president in opposition to this G.I. Bill. I can't believe why he believes it is too generous to our veterans."
Had Republicans initially responded to the Webb bill as detailed above that statement could never have been made, and instead McCain could have been questioning why Obama and his fellow Democrats added massive domestic spending to a military funding bill - a measure that would ensure it's defeat. The press probably wouldn't cover it, but we'd be much closer to having an actual GI Bill passed into law.
WASHINGTON - Republican John McCain launched a harsh attack on Democrat Barack Obama’s lack of military credentials yesterday, charging that the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination has “zero understanding” of veterans issues.He might want to ask John Kerry how well that approach will work.
But according to the story, "An angry McCain answered in a statement released by his campaign". I want to think that McCain had much more in that statement than a simple, pointless, and counter-productive attack on Obama. And I don't trust reporters to deliver McCain's comments in full (see "100 years" for example), so I clicked over to John McCain's campaign web site to find that statement in full. Over the past weeks, as this situation was growing rapidly out of his control, McCain's campaign (and web site) was devoted to advancing his position on global warming. But I had hoped (in spite of the countless missed opportunities) that they would have realized by now that unless he sets the record straight on the GI Bill fiasco no one will.
I couldn't find it. If that now widely reported statement is anywhere on McCain's web page it's certainly well hidden. That's too bad. Hopefully that will be corrected.
The latest entry on the campaign blog (a blog, for the uninitiated, is a frequently updated web site) is this one from two days ago:
As you can see, we've changed a few things on JohnMcCain.com. We have a new design, a new look and some new tools to help us in the fight to get John McCain elected. This is only the beginning of what's to come, so stay tuned.I think someone involved better add "New GI Bill" to the list of things that might help "in the fight to get John McCain elected". Because you are taking punches you should have seen coming from a mile away.
Update - not so fast!: Dead Bill Walking (I suspect there are Mudville readers involved...)
Posted by Greyhawk / May 23, 2008 2:25 PM | Permalink
I have been watching the GI Bill controversy with growing apprehension, particularly considering what the military are saying. McCain has been backed into a corner, and perhaps only the Democrats’ missteps, dishonesty, and ignorance of the milita... Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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