Congressional advocates of an update to the Montgomery GI Bill gathered for an impressive show of force Tuesday afternoon, pressing for swift passage of the measure.
The bill, primarily sponsored by Vietnam veterans Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) would cover the full cost of tuition at a public state university for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and provide a monthly living stipend.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-Va.) and over 25 veterans’ advocacy organizations all participated in a rally for the bill on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
“At its heart, this bill is about helping a large and deserving group of young men and women readjust to the civilian life that we enjoy because of the sacrifices they make wearing that uniform,” said Reid.
The cost of everything is rising, and that includes the cost of going to college. That rise in costs has not been matched by an adequate increase in GI Bill benefits:
"These are people . . . who served the country at a time when very few people did," said Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), who is pushing a bill that would expand benefits for veterans, including active-duty guards and reservists, to cover the cost of the most expensive public universities and to match contributions from private schools with higher tuition, for four academic years. "We should give them the best shot at a good future."
An earlier version of the bill stalled in Congress; the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs opposed it as too expensive, too complex to administer and too likely to tempt troops to move back to civilian life. The bill, substantially revised, now has 58 co-sponsors, including both Democratic presidential candidates.
There are dozens of other bills, including one announced last week by senators including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), also a presidential candidate. Hundreds of supporters of Webb's bill plan to rally today on Capitol Hill.
Many people enlist to earn money for college, and almost everyone signs up for the education benefits -- which, in the case of the main GI Bill, requires a service member to pay about $1,200 into the plan-- but not everyone takes advantage of it. And that buy-in is not returned even if the benefits are unused.
About 70 percent use at least some part of it, said Keith Wilson, director of the education service, but the VA does not track how many earn degrees.
An independent study found that just over half use some part of the benefits, said Ray Kelley of AMVETS, a veterans support group, and only 8 percent use all. "Congress is realizing we're not giving them the benefits we say we're giving them," Kelley said. "They only have 36 months from the time they start using it to the time they finish." That means going to school full time, year-round.
Students apply for the flat-rate benefit monthly and get a check once it is confirmed that they are still enrolled. Luke Stalcup, 27, of Student Veterans of America, who served in Iraq and will attend Georgetown University for graduate study in the fall, said he paid his rent late every month after the GI bill check came in. Now he relies on loans and scholarships to cover the rest of the cost at Columbia University.
That's right--very few people did serve. This bill is so solid, only the craziest wingnuts are opposing it. Why should they care? These Veterans are never going to vote for them in the future. They don't have a powerful lobby in Washington D.C. that can help prop up a campaign fund. Taking care of the people who served is an idea that is actually under siege as we speak--more and more, the wingnuts are fleeing from the Bush doctrine of government by incompetents and returning to their old song and dance--pissing on everything that happened in the 1960s and the 1930s in the hopes of conjuring a Ronald Reagan who can appear and give them a conservative icon to worship:
Although Senator Obama has presented himself as the candidate of new things - using the mantra of “change” endlessly - the cold fact is that virtually everything has says about domestic policy is straight out of the 1960s and virtually everything he says about foreign policy is straight out of the 1930s.
Protecting criminals, attacking business, increasing government spending, promoting a sense of envy and grievance, raising taxes on people who are productive, and subsidizing those who are not - all this is a re-run of the 1960s.
We paid a terrible price for such 1960s notions in the years that followed, in the form of soaring crime rates, double-digit inflation, and double-digit unemployment. During the 1960s, ghettoes across the countries were ravaged by riots from which many have not fully recovered to this day.
The violence and destruction were concentrated not where there was the greatest poverty or injustice but where there were the most liberal politicians, promoting grievances, and hamstringing the police.
Internationally, the approach that Senator Obama proposes - including the media magic of meetings between heads of state - was tried during the 1930s. That approach, in the name of peace, is what led to the most catastrophic war in human history.
Everything seems new to those too young to remember the old and too ignorant of history to have heard about it.
History? You mean the history of Republican Party politics from the 1930s, which encouraged doing business with Hitler and tore into Roosevelt for trying to help Britain? Remember lend lease? Remember when Roosevelt wanted to start preparing for war--he was fought every step of the way by Republican politicians. When the war was nearly upon us, the Republican Party was isolationist and unpatriotic to extremes that were conveniently forgotten once we banded together, joined our allies and defeated our enemies.
Modern conservatives have a deep, black hole in their memories--and let me fill it with some information about a certain Republican who, by the 1950s, was called "Mr. Republican" and was, in effect, the spiritual leader of the conservative movement:
Robert A. Taft:
A staunch non-interventionist, Taft believed that America should avoid any involvement in European or Asian wars and concentrate instead on solving its domestic problems. He believed that a strong U.S. military, combined with the natural geographic protection of the broad Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, would be adequate to protect America even if the Nazis overran all of Europe. Between the outbreak of war in September 1939 and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 Taft opposed nearly all attempts to aid Allied forces fighting the Nazis in Europe. His outspoken opposition to aiding the Allied forces earned him strong criticism from many Republican liberals, such as Wendell Willkie and Thomas E. Dewey, who felt that America could best protect herself by fully supporting the British and other anti-Nazi forces. Although Taft fully supported the American war effort after Pearl Harbor, he continued to harbor a deep suspicion of American involvement in postwar military alliances with other nations, including NATO.
Here's another piece of history that this liberal is not ignorant of--a viable GI bill educated countless Veterans after World War II and helped us create an educated, professional, and thriving middle class. Hence, the need to support Webb's critical piece of legislation. It's a smart investment in our future. It's one we need to make every generation or so. It didn't bankrupt this country. It didn't lead to socialism. Here's another fact--our economy was wrecked by an unpopular and unnecessary war that divided the American people, one which was largely fought by the poor and the minorities and hundreds of thousands of whom we abandoned and forgot to take care of. Ring any fucking bells? Everything that was done back in the 1930s saved us from socialism, and saved capitalism as a viable ideology. Everything that happened in the 1960s is viewed through a wingnut prism designed to marginalize the Democratic Party. It's a shopworn lie that isn't going to play very well with voters born in the 1970s and 1980s who don't give a shit about what happened in the 1960s.
What you see in that vile little piece from Thomas Sowell is the new wingnut marketing campaign--everything that made America great is an evil, corrupt government program that will starve and kill us all and lead to socialism. Have you noticed how often you hear the terms "socialist" and "Marxist" out of these people lately? It's not for nothing that they're desperately trying to re-run the Reagan mantra of 'government is the problem.' Everything they have touched has turned to shit. They gotta run with whatever their diseased little minds can conjure up.
Desperation is self-evident every time a wingnut bleats about socialism, Reverend Wright, or the war on terror.
UPDATE - Blue Girl 11:35 a.m.
I shake my head in wonderment that this bill does not have 99 cosponsors. The GI Bill transformed America. It made the middle class, which became the envy of the entire world, possible. Every dollar spent on the GI Bill was returned to the economy seven times over.
Simply put, it made us a better, stronger and more diverse nation.
The promise of educational assistance is one of the most effective recruiting tools we have at our disposal, but it is more than that. It is a promise made to those who enlist that this country appreciates their sacrifice and their service and we will stand by them and help them move up in society in return for their service to protect it.
UPDATE II - PALE RIDER - 1:21PM
This helps explain what's really going on--and it's just bullshit:
...McCain has all but locked up the Republican presidential nomination and is preparing for a fall campaign in which his support of the Iraq war is sure to be a major issue. Yet the former Navy pilot and Vietnam POW makes himself a target by refusing to endorse Webb’s new GI education bill and instead signing on to a Republican alternative that focuses more on career soldiers than on the great majority who leave after their first four years.
Undaunted, Webb, who was a Marine infantry officer in Vietnam, is closing in on the bipartisan support needed to overcome procedural hurdles in the Senate, where the cost of his package — estimated now at about $52 billion over 10 years — is sure to be an issue. But McCain’s support would seal the deal like nothing else, and the new Republican bill, together with a letter of opposition Tuesday from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, threatens to peel off support before the Democrat gets to the crucial threshold of 60 votes.
“There are fundamental differences,” McCain told Politico. “He creates a new bureaucracy and new rules. His bill offers the same benefits whether you stay three years or longer. We want to have a sliding scale to increase retention. I haven’t been in Washington, but my staff there said that his has not been eager to negotiate.”
“He’s so full of it,” Webb said in response. “I have personally talked to John three times. I made a personal call to [McCain aide] Mark Salter months ago asking that they look at this.”
“Hell, no,” Webb bristled when asked if there had been an implicit message that he would attack McCain if he didn’t come on board.
"John McCain has been a longtime friend of mine, and I think if John sat down and examined what was in this bill, he would co-sponsor it,” Webb said. “I don’t want this to become a political issue. I want to get a bill done.”
The debate will soon come to a head when Congress takes up the administration’s request for new emergency funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The current plan is for the House to take up a 2008 military construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations measure, strike its content and then layer in a series of three amendments that would include not only war funding but also very likely the Webb bill.