Saturday, May 17, 2008

New GI Bill and Jim Webb

The new GI Bill legislation (S.22)proposed by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) has met its first hurdle in the House of Represenatives (HR5740)this week by passing 256-166 with the support of 32 Republicans in that body endorsing the legislation.

Some 159 House Republicans determined not to support the legislation in its present form. Many seek to add some refinement to the current legislation.

It seems, however, that the air of politics seems to have no shame in Washington as Democrats and Republicans fight for ground before the upcoming General Election. There is another bill also being carried around Washington concerning military veterans since 9/11 that has the support of the likes of John McCain, Lindsay Graham and the White House that has been trying to make it onto the floor of Senate. Of course, Democrats in the Senate will have none of that. They seek to bring Sen. Webb's (S.22) proposed legislation before the Senate and get his bill passed no doubt in time before the General Election. Now that a version in the House has passed it appears as though the Democrats will get that wish and potentially succeed in its political coup of the issue.

Why now? Why all of a sudden? Have Democrats and Republicans experienced a "light-bulb" moment that requires that right now this matter be addressed? If that light has gone off it is very interesting timing indeed. Very few in the Senate and House for that matter seemed to very concerned about the welfare of our military serviceman while in Iraq during the last three years as both Democrats and Republicans fought over the legitimacy of the Iraq and the War on Terror. Whether it be re-authorization bills or armour for our vehicles, politicians could not seem to get over that any kind of funding for the war or those fighting it was an "endorsement" of the Bush policy on the War. The result was complete gridlock. In the end, the Democrats simply wanted out of Iraq though they have failed since 2006 "change" election to accomplish that task.

Now, in May of a Presidential season we have a bill that is a complete attempt by both sides to erase the last three years of partisan positioning on the War and pass a piece of legislation to benefit those that have served our great country since 9/11. These folks deserve such benefits as proposed by both bills currently being proposed.

Before I go any further, let me first point out that I believe Sen. Webb to be a very honorable, principled and dedicated servant of the people and supported him in 2006 and continue to support him now.

I only make this point because we live in a time where if you should disagree with a policy or piece of legislation of a particular side you come under attack on all sides as being somehow "hatemonger, unpatriotic, racist" and on and on. Its shameful actually. The dialogue has been reduced or marginalized to such an extent and great divide is being perpetuated upon all of America.

That said I cannot help but feel and see the "politics" behind this issue. The Democrats by all counts seem to have the Republicans on all cards except one this Presidential season and that one represents the stranglehold Republicans have always had on Foriegn Policy, Military, and International matters. This GI Bill legislation while with many merits also serves as a vehicle for Democrats to cut into or erase some of the gains that Republicans have been making in this arena over the last twenty years or so. Some say its last card in the deck for Republicans and since the Democrats are facing an experienced American hero in John McCain a measure was required to offset some of that disparity.

Who better to bring this bill before the Senate and America than Sen. Jim Webb. Though is it is apparent that those endorsing McCain's bill sought out to reach a compromise bill, the Democrats seem hard pressed to get Webb's bill before the entire Congress while at the same time killing any hope for the competing bill to be heard. Of course there will be denies of any wrong-doing here by those on the left, but regardless of the merits of the S.22 it is certainly happening under the radar.

The bill attempts to address what has long been a perceived Democrat weakness in terms of support for our military. Much of this has to do with the reduction of our military to very low levels by President Clinton in the 1990's. Before any hard charging liberals attack me for this statement, they should know the facts before raging any "talking point" accusations against this blogger given those of us who actually were in uniform in the mid-90's and experienced this firsthand know the ramification of a misguided policy. Serviceman were virtually shown the door and presented with their GI benefit papers and informed that it was strictly a manner of "downsizing". History has proven this was a mistake.

So flash now to 2008, as the Democrats vow to make inroads into Republican strengths by introducing what they feel is a bill the likes of FDR New Deal for the military. Knowing what I know and having experienced these benefits and how they are administered I can tell you that though this bill has its merits it falls short of being anything like the "new deal".

Why? One area is it fails to address real transferability of benefits. What does this mean? It means that if you are a career enlisted and you manage to retire from the military at the age of say 50 why would you want or need the college tuition benefit offered in the GI Bill? Fact is you would not. But what you would like to be able to do is transfer that benefit to your children when they enter college. Why is this so hard for Webb and other Democrats to understand? If a serviceman were to serve 12 years or more under the competing legislation in the Senate, the tuition benefit would be 100% transferable to a spouse or child. 50% benefits can be tranfered for serving less time in the military. If you plan on making the military a career, which I though we wanted to have happen for a stable military with low turnover exactly what is the tuition benefit seek to accomplish when a serviceman will not be attending an In-State public university while on duty. One point here. The Armed Forces already has programs for military to take college courses while in the military to further their careers.

So it seesmto me this bill is designed to not only reward for loyal service but also encourage lower retention if you restrict the servive members benefits to just him/herself and not the family and it would require him to leave the military. If you are inlcined to believe that this GI benefit would not "encourage" people to leave the military I can only assume you have never served nor ever had a child enlist.

One of the biggest pitches given a new recruit is the college benefit after serving your enlistment. It is a a huge peice of the recuiters arsenal.

Now none of this critcism is to say that military servicemen and families should not get a GI Bill. I think all Americans believe we should be taking care of our veterans via both educational and medical benefits--I do not think there is any agruement on this point. But I think the manner in which we provide the benefits is critical to not only our future military but also the future of the families who have served our nation. Transferability of beenfits is a must in my book if you want members of the military, especially enlisted to serve for more than just four or six years.

And remember there is a quasi-class issue in the military. Officers and enlisted do not exactly have the same benefit opportunities. An officer leaving the military most likely already has a degree from a four year university so do we simply write of that service in terms of benefit. Why cannot that officer have the ability to transfer the benefit he/she has rightfully earned to a spouse or child?

Webb's bill and the Democrats have either no answer for that or have know whay of being able to pay for that. That brings me to the language of the bill and its intent. Given the pretense above, is it the intent of the Democrats not to have to pay these educational benefits to officers and their families because somehow they may either not deserve them or becuase of the economic or socail station not require them? I understand that the enlisted may have a greater need upon leaving the military, but what of the thousands of Warrant Officers or Master Sgts that have served in the military for fifteen, twenty or twenty-five years? Should not the children of these folks be benefited by their father/mothers service if they should chose not to use the benefits themselves. If something were happen to these military servicemen would not the government pay life insurance benefits to the families? So why not the GI benefits?

Sen. Webb has been quoted as saying that "transferability" is an "unproven concept" and yet it seems to me that he and his platform for family and the tenents of his new book would seem to endorse such a measure. Webb, however, is the perfect front man for this Democrat proposed legislation this election season. His service to our nation is unquestionable and it cannot be lost that he to is a Vietnam veteran like John McCain.

I would think and hope that these two men could meet and work out a compromise bill that would truly meet the needs of all military families, those staying in and those leaving the military, but also because both of these men have to be able to see the very irony that it is two Vietnam Vets who are in a position to make the best changes possible for the future of our military. These men were not honored in this manner to the extent that WWII veterans were and they should be able to work out a compromise bill that would address all the concerns that they realize are truly relavent and not simply a half-measure pushed through Congress for political expediency in an Election year.

If only after three years of service we are wlling to provide full scholarship to any public university and provide a housing stipend as well, should we not also reward and honor those that opt to remain in our military and honor the committment of the families that support those individuals.

Mr. Webb it is not fully but it is also about retention. The rhetoric in Washington this week reminds me of 1993 as measures were implemented and mandated to reduce our military. What better way to accomplish that task then reward people who leave greater than those who would stay. We have experienced this before and at a time when Democrats continue to tell our nation that we cannot sustain such world deployments and our military ranks cannot match the committments around the world we seek to yet again offer a means by which to further reduce the ranks.

To be sure, our military should and needs to be honored and rewarded with a New GI Bill. The problem is that S.22 is not enough and while some Democrats may see it as a "New Deal" policy I believe while good intentioned it is a half-measure meant to meet a politicial end and not a truly a better benefit proposal for veterans.


Jim said...

Politics not withstanding, the timing is questionable. The Democrats will paint with the large brush as usual and portray those that do not support "their" bill in the same manner as those that were opposed to the SCHIP funding by tax hikes on cigarettes.
Its not that Republicans are not supporting vets its that they are not supporting this attempt S.22 to address the needs of the day.
There is already a GI Bill for vets to take advantage of and we also have the mortgage program (VA) for vets as well working currently. Its a matter of increasing those, so on the one hand they are saying we need to reward all those vets post 9/11 that have served in a war or conflict that we as Democrats could not and would not support in the first place.
The bill's timing has to be questioned given these matters are exactly the Obama's weakness in the Fall when facing McCain. By killing the Republican bill, now exactly who is it in Congress who is being partisan.
So much for that change politics idea behind Obama's platform.
Alter you are right in that Webb is simply a vehicle used to hide the truth behind the legislation.

Anonymous said...

This Bill coupled with James Webb's new book release should put him square in the limelight. He made some rounds yesterday on some news programs about his book.
Is it just me or does it seem a little inappropriate for a standing Senator or Congressman of either Party to release a book while in office. I mean are we Virginians supposed to believe he worked on this book in his free time or did he use resources such as staff that would otherwise be on the payroll of taxpayers.
I hate this kind of thing from either Party.Obama and his book, now Webb and his and it all strikes me simply as positioning.

Anonymous said...

Webb is certainly on the short list for VP.
Many I am afraid have written books while in office so I doubt that is much of an issue.

Move those bloggin fingers!!! said...

I love free money, especially when it comes from a liberal debacle like Webb's 21st century MGIB. Thank you Senator for trying to make the Republicans appear as though they don't support the troops. I guess when you back little Georgie Bush into a corner, you never know what you'll get. Now how about increasing the benfits of the disabled veterans of the 21st century. I couldn't help but notice that you left out the tens of thousand service men in your homage to the American soldier. I suppose we're a great tool to dangle in the media like some three legged mascots to show that the war machine has a heart, but in this the truth of your 21st Century MGIB is exposed as the tool of election year Republican slanderizing that was successfully evaded, yet put another profoundly retarded law on the books. Thanks for taking care of your troops Senator Webb and Obama. We really know how much you care, but I'm sure you'll bring it back up before the end of the year.