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McCain and Bush Reject Education Benefits Bill for U.S. Soldiers

The Basics: Timeline and Summary of Benefits

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McCain and Bush Reject Education Benefits Bill for U.S. Soldiers

Photo taken on February 18, 2008 at Fort Stewart, Georgia: Stephen Morton/Getty Images

On January 4, 2007, newly elected Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), along with Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) introduced S.22, The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, which aimed at restoring U.S. veterans' educational benefits back to the level of those granted to World War II soldiers.

Sen. Webb, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran and former Secretary of Navy under President Reagan, had made a new GI Bill the centerpiece of his 2006 senatorial campaign, and was determined to keep his word.

(For more, see Inside Profile of Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia.)

At Webb's behest, the House companion bill was introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA).

Bipartisan Support for New GI Bill
The new GI Bill was co-sponsored by 57 U.S. senators, including all Senate Democrats, both Independents and 10 Senate Republicans.

Webb's bill was also supported by innumerable veterans' organizations, including:

  • Iraq & Afghan Veterans of America (IAVA)
  • American Veterans (AMVETS)
  • VoteVets.org
  • Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)
  • Disabled American Veterans, and
  • Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA).

But President George Bush, Sen. John McCain and other Republicans opposed the bill as providing overly generous benefits to U.S. soldiers.

Explained retired Army General Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, who avidly supports this legislation: "The White House has voiced concern about the bill, arguing that if returning troops are offered a good education, they will choose college over extending their service.

It's offensive to suggest that we should fix the system so that civilian life is unappealing to service members, thereby forcing them to stay in the military.

Moreover, failing to provide adequate education benefits for our returning soldiers will only dissuade a large number of our best and brightest from choosing military service over other career options."

The New York Times opined:

"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."

Benefits Provided by the New GI Bill
The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, which is estimated by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to cost $51 billion over 10 years, provides the following benefits to U.S. soldiers who served on active duty for at least 36 months as of or after September 11, 2001 and hold a high school diploma:

  • Four-years paid tuition at a public university, up to about $1,600 monthly.
  • Half of four-years paid tuition at a private university, with the same cost limits.
  • A monthly living stipend while in school.
  • A annual stipend up to $1,000 for books and supplies.

Also covered are vocational schools, tutorial needs and other options.

The bill also eliminates certain odious regulations put into effect in 1984, including the requirement that new soldiers must pay a $1,200 "enrollment fee" in their first year in order to preserve post-service eligibility for educational benefits.

(Read the text of the bill at GovTrack: S. 22: Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007.]

The CBO estimates that Webb's new GI Bill would decrease re-enlistments by 16%, and it would increase new recruits by 16%. (Source: New York Times.)

Sen. McCain offered a competing bill that granted significantly weaker benefits than does Webb's bill, but 25 Republican senators opted for Webb's bill over that of John McCain.

Congress Passes Sen. Webb's New GI Bill
The House passed The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act by a veto-proof vote of 256 to 166 on May 15, 2008.

Despite veto threats by President Bush, the Senate passed Sen. Webb's new GI Bill on May 22, 2008 by a veto-proof bipartisan margin of 75 to 22.

Sen. McCain, who openly opposed the bill, was absent and did not cast a vote on the new GI Bill.

Where the New GI Bill Stands
As of the end of May 2008, the two versions of the bill are being reconciled in conference committee, after which it will be sent to the White House for the President's signature.

President Bush is presently threatening to veto The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act.

If Bush vetoes this bill, both houses of Congress will revote on the bill. If the House and Senate vote margins are the same as the previous vote, congress will override the President's veto and the new GI Bill will become law.

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