Virginia senator: McCain 'missing the boat' on veterans' benefits bill
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., said Tuesday that opponents of his revamped GI Bill, including presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona, were "missing the boat" by ignoring the fact that a large majority of soldiers leave after their first enlistment.
"Seventy-five percent of the Army and 70 percent of the Marine Corps leave before or at the end of their first enlistment, and these people need to be taken care of," Webb said in a radio interview on The Diane Rehm Show.
"They're getting out no matter what." Webb added that if he could sit down with McCain for "15 minutes and explain to him how this works," McCain would come on board.
Webb added he has tried to keep politics out of the bill and attracted Republican co-sponsors, and said McCain "needs to calm down a little bit and join us on it."
Under Webb's amendment, which the Senate approved last week as part of the war supplemental budget, recent war veterans would get a four-year scholarship to any public university after a three-year deployment. It would provide enough to cover the cost of a four-year degree at the most expensive public university in any state -- about $1,700 a month, according to some news reports -- and is estimated to cost $52 billion over a decade.
Speaking at a Memorial Day event in Albuquerque, N.M., McCain said Monday that the measure would hurt the military's ability to retain troops and decimate the ranks of noncommissioned officers. "At a time when the United States military is fighting in two wars, and as we finally are beginning the long overdue and very urgent necessity of increasing the size of the Army and Marine Corps, one study estimates that Senator Webb's bill will reduce retention rates by 16 percent," said McCain, referring to a recent CBO analysis. Webb and others have seized on that same report, however, noting that it projects the Webb measure would likely raise recruitment levels by 16 percent.
McCain, along with Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., has offered competing legislation that would provide $1,500 a month for veterans after a three-year stint and up to $2,000 after 12 years. Their bill is estimated to cost $38 billion over 10 years. But that measure failed to get 60 votes needed for passage when it came to the Senate floor.
The House is expected to take up the war funding package next week, but its outlook remains unclear. The Senate passed the underlying bill by a veto-proof majority, but House passage could be complicated by efforts of the Blue Dog Coalition to find an offset for the cost of the veterans' education benefit, which the Senate version lacks. President Bush has threatened to veto the legislation if it contains any domestic spending unrelated to the war effort.