A SOTU flip-flop on military benefits

By Tim Grieve

Published February 2, 2005 8:58PM (EST)

In his State of the Union address tonight, George W. Bush will call on Congress to increase the benefits paid to families of soldiers killed in Iraq. It's a good idea. But it was a good idea a year ago, too, when John Kerry was supporting an increase in death benefits and the Bush administration was saying no.

In a speech last March, Kerry said that, if he were elected president, he would "sign legislation to provide for those families who suffer a loss in war." The Kerry plan would have included, as Bush's new plan does, a dramatic increase in the amount of life insurance payable to the families of service members who die in the line of duty.

That wasn't what the White House wanted then. As the Army Times noted a couple of years ago, the Bush White House is effusive when it comes to praising members of the military but cheap when it comes to paying them. When Congress voted to increase the death benefit for military families from $6,000 to $12,000 in 2003, the administration objected on the grounds that the increase would "undermine each military department's determination of whether such additional benefits are warranted and appropriate." When Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions tried to persuade the Pentagon to go along with a bigger death benefit and higher insurance payouts last year, he was told that Defense Department officials weren't ready to move forward yet.

Now, with many Americans questioning whether the war was worth the lives it has cost, the White House understands that it can't afford to have the families of fallen soldiers appearing on TV in poverty. Bush will vow to take care of those families tonight. He'll make it sound like a moral imperative. And it is -- just as Jeff Sessions and John Kerry and a host of others have been saying for way too long.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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