On Tuesday, around 100 veterans and a dozen congressmen gathered on Capitol Hill to rally in support of Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-VA) 21st Century G.I. Bill, which boasts the bipartisan support of 56 cosponsors.
In seeking the support of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) — whom Webb said “needs to get on the bill” in order to secure more Republican support — Webb told McCain “several times that this is not a political issue.” Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) pointed to the bill’s bipartisan support: “[P]eople like John Warner and James Inhofe are on it.”
According to the Congressional record, however, Inhofe (R-OK) quietly removed his name from the list of cosponsors on Tuesday — the same day as the Capitol Hill rally:
After months of stalling, McCain introduced his own competing bill last week, in an apparent attempt to peel off conservatives supporters from Webb’s bill. McCain suggested Webb’s staff “has not been eager to negotiate,” to which Webb retorted, “He’s so full of it. I have personally talked to John three times.”
Unlike Webb’s bill, McCain’s proposal pegs benefits to the length of time served in active duty, reserving the most generous benefits to older soldiers who signed up before 9/11. He purports to be concerned over military reenlistment, an argument fueled this week when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asserted on Tuesday that “our first objective is to strengthen the All-Volunteer Force.” He warned that “serious retention issues could arise” under a too-generous GI bill.
Of course, as the Boston Globe pointed out, the “promise of an education in return for serving the country is one of the most frequently cited reasons that young men and women join the military.” What’s more, keeping Americans in the military by denying them better options is simply morally bankrupt, as VoteVets Chairman Jon Soltz and Gen. Wesley Clark wrote recently:
[I]t is morally reprehensible to fix the system so that civilian life is unappealing to service members, in an attempt to force them to re-up. Education assistance is not a handout, it is a sacred promise that we have made for generations in return for service.
The McCain-Graham bill, which was introduced on Tuesday, lists seven co-sponsors, including Inhofe and three other senators still listed as co-sponsors of the Webb bill: Susan Collins (R-ME), Pete Domenici (R-NM), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT).