WASHINGTON (AP) — After promising to veto a huge Iraq war-funding bill because it contains unrelated domestic spending, the White House now wants to boost the costs even higher by letting troops transfer ramped up GI Bill education benefits to their spouses or children.
The White House is signaling that President Bush could sign the hotly contested and long overdue war funding bill if the benefit transferability provision is added to the 10-year, $52 billion improvement to GI Bill college benefits proposed by Democrats and many Republicans.
"It's like the Yogi Berra story: 'I don't like that restaurant. Besides, the portions aren't large enough,'" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in an interview. "They don't like it, but they want more."
"It's not a bad idea," Pelosi added. "It just costs money."
A Democratic leadership aide, who was granted anonymity in order to speak freely, said Democrats were unlikely to yield to the White House demands.
"There is a great deal of reluctance to increase the cost of the bill to accommodate the president when he is otherwise complaining that we're spending too much," the aide said.
The imbroglio over the GI Bill is the biggest remaining hurdle to getting Bush's pending $178 billion war funding requests enacted. He has vowed to veto any measure exceeding his request, but the new veterans program is extraordinarily popular, and a veto might be difficult to sustain. That's one reason why White House representatives are trying to negotiate a compromise.
Democratic leaders are likely to dump most other domestic add-ons opposed by Bush, despite a sweeping vote in the Senate last month to add significant new domestic spending to the measure.
In addition, House Democratic leaders are to drop efforts to extend unemployment benefits, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Wednesday.
Under an unusual procedural setup, it's up to the House to vote next on the war funding bill, while also significantly scaling back a companion package of additional spending passed by the Senate last month.
In addition to the GI Bill benefits and an extension of unemployment insurance, the Senate added more than $10 billion for various other domestic programs, including heating subsidies for the poor, wildfire fighting, road and bridge repair, and health research. The Senate vote was a surprising 75-22, but the result dismayed House leaders, who are seeking to give Bush a bill he will sign.
The addition sought by Bush could cost $2 billion a year, or $20 billion to $25 billion over a decade, assuming the right to transfer benefits to family members involves the more generous benefits proposed by Democrats. The Democratic GI Bill, sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., is aimed at guaranteeing returning Iraq war veterans the equivalent of a four-year education at a public university.
A senior White House official said Wednesday that adding Bush's benefits transfer plan to the GI Bill provision wouldn't guarantee a presidential signature, but that it could prove to be an important element to reaching an agreement.
The two sides also are wrangling over a plan in both the House and Senate bills that would block new Bush administration rules designed to cut spending on Medicaid health care for the poor and disabled by $13 billion over the next five years.
Meanwhile, moderate to conservative Democrats continue to worry that the new veterans' benefits package will pass in violation of pay-as-you-go rules that are supposed to require that new federal benefits programs are "paid for" with new revenues or spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.
Last month, House Democrats used a one-half of a percentage point increase in tax rates on wealthy taxpayers to finance the new benefits, but the Senate rejected the idea.
New Poll: 80% Of Americans Say Student Veterans Shortchanged By Current GI Bill; 9 Out Of 10 Say Honor Current Heroes As America Did In The Past.
The overwhelmingly majority of Americans believe that veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are not getting the educational benefits they need or deserve, and an even more significant percentage support an update to the current GI Bill to give student-veterans more and better access to such benefits.
These are the major findings of a new national survey commissioned by The Campaign for a New GI Bill and conducted by Whitman Insight Strategies, the prominent New York based strategic research firm. The survey of 1,000 registered voters has a margin of error of plus/minus 3.1%.
“The current G.I. Bill is depriving far too many of our troops returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts of the same educational opportunities that I and some eight million other Americans so greatly benefited from,” said Jerome Kohlberg, legendary financier & World War II veteran who is founder and chairman of The Campaign for a New G.I. Bill. “Today’s student veterans have sacrificed so much for our country. Why should they have to sacrifice their college education when they return from the battlefield. In fact, America has a solemn obligation to them.”
Kohlberg went to college on the original “free ride” G.I. Bill, which, at the time, fully paid for a U.S. veteran’s higher educational pursuits. It allowed him to receive his bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College, a business degree from Harvard, and a law degree from Columbia. This paved the way for Mr. Kohlberg’s very successful career in which he became a pioneer in the investments industry as the senior founding partner of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.
“No matter what respondents views of the war on terror, one thing is crystal clear—American voters want our returning veterans to have the same opportunities as past veterans did,” said Matthew Boulay, Director of The Campaign for a New GI Bill.
“In a year when there have been so many candidate debates, forums, and rallies, we believe it’s time that veterans’ issues, particularly education and health care, should be a focus of our next President,” Boulay said. “After the attention paid to pastors, fundraisers, flag pins, spouses, and rhetoric, we believe it’s high time for our candidates to state clearly their position on issues affecting the men and women of the Armed Forces, Reserves and National Guard who have served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each presidential candidate should tell our vets what they can expect when they return from duty.”
Among the survey’s major findings are:
- 81% of Americans say that veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are not getting enough support in transitioning back to civilian life.
- 91% of Americans support providing these veterans with a funded college education for their service.
- While 85% of Americans believe that the original GI Bill of 1944 was fair to returning World War II veterans, 67% say that the current GI Bill is not fair and 3 out of 4 say that it doesn’t do enough for veterans.
- More than 8 of 10 Americans support a comprehensive 21st Century GI Bill.
- 91% of Americans agree that the government should make good on its promise to help veterans get a college education and that we should reward current heroes like we rewarded those in the past
- 83% of Americans believe that a new 21st Century GI Bill will benefit America. (94% of Americans say that the original GI Bill was a good idea, and 91% believe it benefited America).
The Campaign for a New GI Bill is a 501-C-4 non-partisan organization set up to promote a new, fair deal for today’s veterans. For more information, go to the web site www.NewGIBill.org. For a copy of the full survey, contact Bruce Bobbins or Bill Cunningham at Dan Klores Communications, 212-685-4300.
GI Bill Falls Far Short Of Veterans' Current College Costs
Military vets who joined up in order to pay for school find their benefits barely cover cost of books.
Evan Aanerud didn't think he'd have to work full time to put himself through school. He joined the Marine Corps Reserves to fulfill two childhood dreams: to serve his country and to go to college. The 24-year-old's dad was a recruiter for the Corps, so he'd heard of the GI Bill, the program that provides money for education to veterans, and he knew from the ads he saw on television that the military would help him pay for college.
"When I came back from Iraq, I was surprised with the amount of money I ended up getting from the GI Bill," he said. That amount was $282 a month when Evan was at a community college. When he transferred to California Polytechnic State University and the rules surrounding his GI Bill benefit changed, he got $430 a month. "That's about the cost of one-quarter of the books, and that's about all that I got," he said.