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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.
It provides additional funds for the Food and Drug Administration, the 2010 census, federal prisons, local law enforcement agencies, heating assistance for the poor and many other domestic priorities. It also blocks the administration from implementing regulations that would limit access to the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
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.
Instead of standing on its own with the war money, the new benefit is lumped together with an estimated $10 billion in additional domestic spending. Democrats must now decide whether to pare back these appropriations to accent the importance of the GI education issue.
And to some degree, Republicans seemed relieved that the bigger amendment succeeded right off because it then gives Bush more political cover in case of a veto fight.
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.
The President has threatened on multiple occasions to veto the emergency supplemental if it includes war timelines or other policy restrictions, or if it goes over his arbitrary budget cap. The Administration has also expressed objections to the GI Bill based on concerns about retention - basically, they believe that if a GI Bill benefit is too good, it'll reward veterans too richly for their service and draw them away from re-enlisting.
So with a veto threat looming, we haven't won yet. There is one final hurdle--and it is a big one: the President. When the politicians return to Washington after Memorial Day, Congress will get a final version of the war funding bill to the President, and President Bush will have to decide whether he is with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, or against them.
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.
“I will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did,” said McCain, a former Vietnam naval aviator who was held as a prisoner of war for more than five years.
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.
Take a look around and let us know what you think!
Update - not so fast!: Dead Bill Walking (I suspect there are Mudville readers involved...)
It's a shame this thing is DOA, it would've really benefitted a lot of people. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I f&*%in hate politics!Posted by LT Nixon at May 23, 2008 04:09 PM
Yup - if I didn't make it clear in the above, we're the real losers in the whole thing.
I wonder if this is the only time we'll be used like this between now and November?Posted by Greyhawk at May 23, 2008 04:37 PM
The whole thing makes my head hurt. Sometimes, I just want to go live in the mountains, far away from everyone. No cable. No internet. No nothing except me and my family. Today is one of those days.Posted by HomefrontSix at May 25, 2008 06:48 AM
So Greyhawk, do you think congress will override W's veto? If not, it's SCHIP part II - nothing more than a plot to embarrass Republicans at the expense of citizensPosted by Rachel at May 27, 2008 01:39 PM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(4) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)