Tuesday, May 06, 2008

When McCain and Bush say that we should "support the troops..."

...that apparently doesn't include giving them educational benefits.
By DAVID LERMAN

202-824-8224

6:04 PM EDT, May 6, 2008

WASHINGTON

Virginia Sen. Jim Webb's GI bill—giving full college tuition to military veterans -- could make headway in Congress for the first time later this week.

The effort to expand education benefits for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan could be included in a war spending bill that may reach the House floor for a vote by week's end.

That move, if it comes, would mark the first substantive advancement of an initiative that Webb first introduced 16 months ago.

Expanding college benefits for military veterans was the legislative centerpiece of Webb's 2006 Senate campaign.

The issue lay dormant last year, but has gained new momentum as Congress reacts to growing public frustration with a war that has entered its sixth year.

House Democratic leaders told reporters Tuesday they are working on including veterans' education benefits as part of the Iraq war funding measure requested by President Bush.

If Webb's measure—or similar legislation—gets included in the war bill, it could win speedy passage because of the urgency of funding the war.

In another sign of progress, Webb's bill will get a hearing Wednesday before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. The chairman of that panel, Sen. Daniel Akaka, D- Hawaii, has endorsed the bill.

But prospects for the measure remained uncertain.

The Bush administration opposes Webb's bill, fearing it would entice troops to leave the military sooner than they otherwise might at a time of war.

And Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, signaled his opposition to Webb's bill by announcing plans for alternative legislation offering more modest education benefits.

Webb, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran, argues that today's veterans deserve the same educational opportunities as veterans of World War II received. Many veterans of the so-called Greatest Generation, including Virginia Sen. John Warner, received full college tuition as a result of the original GI bill signed by Franklin Roosevelt.

By contrast, current law, known as the Montgomery GI Bill, covers only about half the cost of a college education today, according to veterans groups.

Webb's bill would offer veterans up to 36 months of benefits, including tuition, books and fees—up to the cost of the most expensive in-state public school of a veteran's home state. The government would match, dollar for dollar, contributions of any private school willing to make up the difference between the in-state public rate and a private school's higher charge.

The measure also provides for a $1,000 monthly stipend and funds for tutorial assistance.

Lawmakers have estimated the cost of the bill at $2.5 billion to $4 billion a year—a price that Webb has said should be considered a "cost of war."

Copyright © 2008, Newport News, Va., Daily Press

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