Congress is pushing a smart bill that would greatly expand college aid to military veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. But President Bush has said he would veto the bill.
Turns out the Democratic congressional leadership attached the new GI Bill to President Bush's $108 billion emergency supplemental spending measure for the wars. Other attachments include a 2009 deadline for troop withdrawal from Iraq; a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits, and money for a military hospital in Guam.
Bush supports the GI education benefits, but he doesn't back the timeline for troop withdrawals. He also believes the domestic spending initiatives have no place in a war supplemental bill.
All fair and valid points that shouldn't surprise Democrats who loaded this bill with more spending. Granted, there is a certain logic to attaching a GI Bill to war funding, but there's no reason to delay its passage by making it part of partisan political games.
The version sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb (D., Va.) offers four academic years of benefits, up to the most expensive in-state public school tuition. A monthly housing stipend and a book stipend are included.
In addition, the bill helps private colleges and universities offset tuition costs for vets, and ensures more equitable benefits for National Guard and Reserve members.
The price tag seems hefty: an estimated $5.2 billion a year for 10 years. But $5 billion is half of what taxpayers spend in Iraq each month.
A competing proposal by John McCain (R., Ariz.) would increase benefits even more for longer periods of service and allow vets to pass their unused education benefits to spouses or children.
The country can never fully repay veterans for their sacrifices since Sept. 11. But improved educational benefits are a good start.