McCain the War Hero Veteran Refuses To Support New G.I. Benefits Bill

John McCain absented himself from the Senate today so he would not be recorded as having voted against the strongest piece of legislation providing benefits to veterans since the G.I. Bill for World War II veterans. That’s why it’s called the New G.I. Bill, and it passed the Senate by a large, veto-proof margin.

The Senate yesterday approved $165 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan well into the next presidency, but in a break with President Bush and the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, it also approved billions of dollars in domestic spending that includes a generous expansion of veterans’ education benefits.

The war funding measure, which passed 70 to 26, will be twinned with the domestic spending package and sent to the House for final approval after Congress’s Memorial Day recess. Senators stripped the package of all language that mandated troop withdrawals and sought to govern the conduct of the Iraq war, which had been in a previous version approved by the House.

But the separate domestic spending package served notice to the White House that in an election year, lawmakers from both parties will demand coupling Iraq war funds with priorities at home. In total, the bill would cost more than $250 billion over 10 years, including $51 billion for the veterans’ education benefits alone.

“I have spent many days in the United States Senate, and I don’t know of any days I will cherish more than this one,” said retiring Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), one of the original co-sponsors of the new G.I. Bill.

The 75 to 22 vote on the domestic measure surprised even its advocates and showed clearly the impact of the looming November election on Republican unity. Senate Republicans who face reelection abandoned Bush first, followed by other Republicans. Twenty-five Senate Republicans, more than half the total, joined 48 Democrats and two independents to ensure the bill’s passage.

Sen. McCain, however, opposes the legislation, and is sponsoring a separate bill with much weaker benefits. Here is why (bolds mine):

“Senators Graham, Burr and I have offered legislation that would provide veterans with a substantial increase in educational benefits. The bill we have sponsored would increase monthly education benefits to $1500; eliminate the $1200 enrollment fee; and offer a $1000 annually for books and supplies. Importantly, we would allow veterans to transfer those benefits to their spouses or dependent children or use a part of them to pay down existing student loans. We also increase benefits to the Guard and Reserve, and even more generously to those who serve in the Selected Reserve.

“I know that my friend and fellow veteran, Senator Jim Webb, an honorable man who takes his responsibility to veterans very seriously, has offered legislation with very generous benefits. I respect and admire his position, and I would never suggest that he has anything other than the best of intentions to honor the service of deserving veterans. Both Senator Webb and I are united in our deep appreciation for the men and women who risk their lives so that the rest of us may be secure in our freedom. And I take a backseat to no one in my affection, respect and devotion to veterans. And 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.

“The most important difference between our two approaches is that Senator Webb offers veterans who served one enlistment the same benefits as those offered veterans who have re-enlisted several times. Our bill has a sliding scale that offers generous benefits to all veterans, but increases those benefits according to the veteran’s length of service. I think it is important to do that because, otherwise, we will encourage more people to leave the military after they have completed one enlistment. At a time when the United States military is fighting in two wars, and as we finally are beginning the long overdue and very urgent necessity of increasing the size of the Army and Marine Corps, one study estimates that Senator Webb’s bill will reduce retention rates by 16%.

“Most worrying to me, is that by hurting retention we will reduce the numbers of men and women who we train to become the backbone of all the services, the noncommissioned officer. In my life, I have learned more from noncommissioned officers I have known and served with than anyone else outside my family. And in combat, no one is more important to their soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen, and to the officers who command them, than the sergeant and petty officer. They are very hard to replace. Encouraging people not to choose to become noncommissioned officers would hurt the military and our country very badly. As I said, the office of President, which I am seeking, is a great honor, indeed, but it imposes serious responsibilities. How faithfully the President discharges those responsibilities will determine whether he or she deserves the honor. I can only tell you I intend to deserve the honor if I am fortunate to receive it, even if it means I must take politically unpopular positions at times and disagree with people for whom I have the highest respect and affection.

Shorter McCain: Are you crazy? Why would anyone want to go back into combat a second time and a third time and a fourth time if they could choose a free college education and a good job instead? We need to limit their options, not expand them!

First Read has Obama’s reaction to McCain’s refusal to support the Webb bill:

On the Senate floor today, Obama blasted McCain’s opposition to the Webb bill. “I respect Sen. John McCain’s service to our country. He is one of those heroes of which I speak. But I can’t understand why he would line up behind the President in his opposition to this GI Bill. I can’t believe why he believes it is too generous to our veterans. I could not disagree with him and the president more on this issue. There are many issues that lend themselves to partisan posturing but giving our veterans the chance to go to college should not be one of them.”

Sen. McCain did not like that response at all:

“It is typical, but no less offensive that Sen. Obama uses the Senate floor to take cheap shots at an opponent and easy advantage of an issue he has less than zero understanding of,” the Arizona senator said in a statement. “I know that my friend and fellow veteran, Sen. Jim Webb, an honorable man who takes his responsibility to veterans very seriously, has offered legislation with very generous benefits. I respect and admire his position, and I would never suggest that he has anything other than the best of intentions to honor the service of deserving veterans. Both Sen. Webb and I are united in our deep appreciation for the men and women who risk their lives so that the rest of us may be secure in our freedom.”

McCain added, “And I take a backseat to no one in my affection, respect and devotion to veterans. And I will not accept from Sen. Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did.”

But this article in the current issue of Time magazine informs us that Sen. McCain’s affection, respect, and devotion to veterans and their needs has been honored over the years more in the breach than in the observance (h/t Down With Tyranny!)

This is not the first time McCain, who has a proud history of opposing what he views as excessive government spending, has found himself at odds with his fellow veterans on legislation. He’s voted for veterans funding bills only 30% of the time, according to a scorecard of roll-call votes put out by the nonpartisan Disabled Americans for America. Under the same system Obama has a 90% rating — though, of course, he has spent a much shorter time in Washington. “Senator McCain clearly needs to be recognized for his military service and in some respects that will play to his advantage, but when it actually comes to delivering health care and benefits during war, Senator McCain’s going to have some explaining to do,” said Paul Sullivan, director of the nonpartisan Veterans for Common Sense.

Steve Benen slams McCain’s retention argument as fraudulent and immoral:

Just a few days ago, appearing on ABC’s “The View,” John McCain talked about the importance of increasing the size of the U.S. military. To entice more volunteers, he said, the government should focus on incentives: “[O]ne of the things we ought to do is provide [the troops with] significant educational benefits in return for serving.”

Naturally, then, McCain indicated a few days later that he’ll withhold support for a bipartisan measure to renew and expand the GI Bill for a new generation of veterans.

[…]

McCain’s opposition comes a day after petitions from 30,000 veterans arrived at McCain’s Senate office, urging him to support the modernized bill to offer veterans a college education.

But the reason for the opposition is especially ridiculous.

Bush administration officials, and apparently McCain, “worry that a more generous and expansive GI Bill would create an incentive for troops to get out of the military and go to college.”

Just last week, Wesley Clark and Jon Soltz highlighted why this is nonsense.

First, it is morally reprehensible to fix the system so that civilian life is unappealing to service members, in an attempt to force them to re-up. Education assistance is not a handout, it is a sacred promise that we have made for generations in return for service.

Second, falling military recruitment numbers are just as serious as retention problems. To send the message that this nation will not help you make the most of your life will dissuade a large number of our best and brightest from choosing military service over other career options.

This should be a no-brainer. The GI Bill was instrumental in helping send a generation of U.S. veterans to college and helping create the nation’s post-WWII middle class, but the law has not kept up with the times. Whereas veterans used to be able to count on the government to pay for all of their college expenses, troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are finding that the GI Bill barely scratches the surface of today’s college costs.

Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) unveiled a GI Bill modernization bill over a year ago, which would increase troop benefits to pay for their education. From a patriotic perspective, this is showing real support for the troops. From a military perspective, it might make recruiting easier if young people know they can go to college after their service for free. From an economic perspective, the country benefits when thousands of educated young people enter the workforce with degrees, as opposed to the alternative. (Even Joe Lieberman supports the bill, and he never wavers from Bush’s position on matters relating to the military.)

4 Responses to “McCain the War Hero Veteran Refuses To Support New G.I. Benefits Bill”

  1. Corpsmanup_2_4 says:

    There is no doubt that there is the need for the G.I. Bill to be modernized and to allow for a better benefit than now. But, this continues to create an inequity that the Korean and Viet Nam veteran feels. When I started going to college I was receiving $150.00 per month. I had to pay tuitiion/general fees/books/room and board and try to have some funds for discretionary use. The college I went to cost me $750.00 per semester. There were no jobs available. I could afford to go to college only two semesters when I had to leave college and go to another state and find a job. I found that job and worked for six years to get out of debt I had accrued. I went back to college part time while continuing to work full-time. The monthly amount I got under the G.I. Bill was still less than $200.00 per month. Because I had done a “Kiddy Cruise” (Minority Enlistment) I was only eligible to use my G.I. Bill for 8 years after separation. I continued to go to college and never received all of my benefits from the G.I. Bill. When the VA stopped susidizing my college I still had 26 months of benefits left.

    So this new G.I. Bill is a great idea, but, why create the animousity of the “Forgotten” veterans of Korea and the overlooked “Losers” of Viet Nam?

    When I became older I finally found out that I was eligible for “disability compensation” for wounds received on active duty. When I finally got the disability rating I was told that I might qualify for the Vocational Rehabilitation and Counseling program. I originally was denied that because my rating was not high enough. When my rating finally became high enough for consideration I was told that I was not eligible because I was employed.

    Congress can pass all of the improvements it wishes; but, they don’t tell the veterans’ that there is a time limit on the benefit and that if it is possible to deny the benefit the bureaucrats will.

  2. he a trip have a safe weekend folk

  3. Angellight says:

    There was a time in American that life was hopeful and one could live out the American Dream, but this was all under Democrataic rule. Since Republicans have gotten into power, the dream has slowly died until it is now almost dead and in its deaththroes. The GOP has done nothing for the American families or way of life, although they always spout “family values”. If we allow them to fool us again by their clever way of manipulating words like a “dagger” on their opponents and the use of their tricks – “now you see it, now you don’t”, then may be we deserve high gas prices, increased food prices, more wars, a loss of jobs, higher health-care costs and complete desolation of America, who will become a third-world country! Unfortunately, McCain and the GOP have no positive ideas on foreign policy or anything else. They say no the Farm Bill; No to the G.I. Bill, No to a higher minimum wage; No to helping those with foreclosure problems in otherwords no to charity and taking care of one’s brother. The Bible teaches us that anger only begets anger and that we should love. What happened to these values we used to live by? How can a party which pretends to be religious live with such an anti-Christian way? They say and do the antithesis of the teachings of Christ!

    This massed negativity has been a real detriment to American economic progress and peace in Iraq. Such pretenders and shapeshifters are like a millstone around the neck of humanity, crippling true effort. They proclaim Family Values, yet do nothing but impede true progress while the American way-of-life is dying. Any bills offered by Democrats which will benefit the American families, the GOP votes NO! This massed, organized negativity has been what has enabled them to work so ruthlessly with power and success at the destruction of all that has attempted to get in the way of their projects, desires and greed. They refuse to recognize that humanity can solve its problems without aggression and force and instead use the energy of goodwill and diplomacy, sharing and cooperation.

    If you disagree with the Pretenders’ politics, however, (I do not say policies for they lack true policies) in unison they attack by subterfuge, distortion and lies to disguise their true intent –the control of money and power for the GOP family only (so much for family values). Masters in fear mongering and shapeshifting, they hope to incite fear in an unsuspecting and gullible American public and to get them to embrace their plans out of fear and against their own common sense and good judgment! Only this time, we will dispel this Illusion and not be fooled again by these “fakers, con-artists and Pretenders”, and our united House, born out of need and true change, will withstand the onslaught of this False, now Fleeting Wind that has devastated the American way of life, no more; their House of Cards are Falling!

  4. Bill Griffith says:

    I am considered one of those thousands, if not millions, of the “Forgotten Vietnam Vets”. One issue that none of the Presidents (since Nixon) or any of the Congressmen seem to want to adress is the situation that currently effects us. That situation being the herbicide and pesticide poisoning of all the Air Force bases located in Thailand with a dioxin laded chemical Agent Orange. “The Boots On The Ground” policy needs to be lifted so that all of the “Forgotten Vietnam Vets and Vietnam Era Vets” who lived on these polluted bases for years can qualify for Veterans benefits and Medical treatment. This is the travesty that makes up a big part of the VA’s backlog. Thousands of vets and the children of these vets, who served this nation in Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand during the Vietnam War, have been excluded by only a few miles outside of the prescribed war zone of Vietnam from medical treatment for herbicide poisoning. They are now finally coming to the conclusion that the US military has been lying to us for over forty years. Apparently, this GI Bill still does not change anythings as far as we “REMFs” are concerned. This is the travesty of the Vietnam War. The US military and several chemical companies (Dow, Mosanto, Shamrock, etc.) poisoned it’s own and they are still not ready to accept any responsibility for that criminal act, which violated the Geneva Convention.

    In hindsight, my son will never serve in the military of this country because in essence, there are some in this country who are not worth defending. The lucky ones are on the “Wall”. “We all died in Southeast Asia, and no one had the decency to tell Us.”

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