Friday, February 29, 2008

New G.I. Bill President Bush opposes it

Warner signs on to new G.I. Bill

Warner signs on to GI Bill improvement plan

By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Feb 29, 2008 6:11:12 EST

Senate sponsors of legislation to update GI Bill education benefits introduced a revised bill Thursday, but the biggest change in the landscape of that issue is the addition of a new key co-sponsor.

Sen. John Warner of Virginia, former chairman and now ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has joined Sens. Jim Webb, D-Va., Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., as the primary sponsors of a bill that has broad support among military and veterans’ groups but is opposed by the Bush administration.

Webb said he hoped the addition of Warner to the cosponsor list would help pave the way for quick passage of a bill that has already been too long in the making. Webb said Warner “brings a great deal of credibility to the table.”

Warner said he views the bill as helping veterans and helping the military, calling it “another building block to ensure we can preserve the all-volunteer force and never return to the draft.”

Bush administration officials have argued that a better GI Bill, besides being costly, could hurt the military by encouraging people to leave service to attend college.

Webb said he expects his proposal would cost about $2 billion a year, a significant but not insurmountable cost.

“I assure you we can find the money,” said Lautenberg, a World War II veteran who used the GI Bill to attend Columbia University.

“All of us learned how to fight,” Lautenburg said, referring to Warner, Webb and Hagel. Webb and Hagel are Vietnam combat veterans. Warner, who served in World War II in the Navy and in the Korean War in the Marine Corps — and used the GI Bill after both conflicts — said he “would not be here today if not for the GI bill.”

The newest version of Webb’s Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Act still promises full tuition at a public college or university plus a monthly stipend for veterans attending college, with a new wrinkle that expands the opportunity to attend a private school through a program that would have the government provide dollar-for-dollar matching funds when a college has a program of its own to cover the difference between GI Bill payments and full tuition costs.

An earlier version of the bill promised a $1,000 monthly stipend on top of tuition and fees, something modified in the new bill to become a living allowances based on the military’s basic allowance for housing payments. College students would receive a stipend equal to BAH for an E-5 with dependents for the city where they are attending college, a payment that averages $1,034 today. A separate stipend would be provided for books and other non-tuition expenses.

Webb said the effort is all aimed at making the modern GI Bill similar to the World War II benefit that allowed veterans to attend the college of their choice. Today’s benefits, capped at $1,101 a month, barely cover the cost of attending a community college, he said.

“It is time for the GI Bill to catch up with reality,” Webb said.

The bill has 35 cosponsors in the Senate, not enough to guarantee passage, but Webb said he hopes Warner’s endorsement will attract more supporters. Senate leaders have talked about guaranteeing a vote on the bill this year, but have not said when the vote might come, and no agreements have been made to also get the House of Representatives to approve the measure.

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