Yesterday, House leaders in both parties struck a deal on a war supplemental bill that includes expanded college benefits for veterans. The GI Bill is Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-VA) version, as well as a provision allowing troops to transfer the benefits to family members. President Bush has promised to sign the legislation.
Now, however, Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) — the two most vocal opponents of Webb’s bill — are trying to take credit for it. They are claiming that they always supported the generous benefits — their main concern was just ensuring the benefits’ transferability:
McCain: That has always been my primary concern with respect to the Webb bill. … With the addition of the transferability provisions sought by Senators Graham, Burr, myself and others to give service members the right to transfer earned G.I. Bill benefits to spouses and children, we will have achieved in offering vastly improved educational benefit.
Bush: Throughout the past five months, President Bush and members of his Administration have worked hard to ensure that an expansion of GI benefits includes transferability. … The President is pleased that Congress answered his call.
Webb said that he had been considering changing his bill to include a transferability option. But instead of working with him, McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) went ahead and introduced an opposing bill. While it did have transferability, it also had less generous educational benefits.
This was never the real reason Bush and McCain opposed the legislation. Their constant complaint was that Webb’s version was too generous and would lead to a drop in military retention:
McCain: “I want to make sure that we have incentives for people to remain in the military as well as for people to join the military.”
Bush administration: “The last thing we want to do is provide a benefit — or the last thing we want to do is create a situation in which we are losing our men and women who we have worked so hard to train.”
As the CBO concluded, these claims about retention were inaccurate. The Pentagon also argued that it was too generous to confer benefits on troops after “only” two years of service, and legislation offered by McCain and his Senate allies would have reserved the most generous benefits for those who have served at least 12 years, excluding most servicemembers.