McCain's bizarre reluctance on the new GI Bill

Why McCain won't support a bipartisan bill on education benefits for veterans.


Steve Benen
April 11, 2008 1:25AM (UTC)

You've got to be kidding.

On ABC's The View this morning, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was asked about the great strain placed on U.S. troops due to the Iraq war. McCain recognized the strain and said that in order to motivate Americans to join the military, the government should provide stronger "educational benefits": "[O]ne of the things we ought to do is provide them significant educational benefits in return for serving."

Why, that's a great idea. Why hasn't someone thought of that before?

Wait, someone already did -- and for reasons that defy comprehension, McCain refuses to support the legislation.

To briefly recap for those just joining us, 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.

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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 knew they could 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.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are busy on the campaign trail, but both have signed on as cosponsors of the Webb/Hagel bill. McCain, on the other hand, has stayed on the sidelines.

Why, then, is McCain going on national television to talk about how much he supports providing veterans with educational benefits? For that matter, why does the Bush administration actually oppose the Webb/Hagel bill? Kevin Drum explains:

They're afraid that updating GI benefits will hurt retention rates as soldiers leave the service to go to college. Charming, no? And of course, it would cost too much. Can't have that when it comes to programs that involve actual help for actual people. Apparently we're better off spending money on sugar subsidies and mediating gang wars in Iraq than we are helping vets get an education. Where's Mr. Straight Talk when you need him?

Nowhere to be found.


Steve Benen

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