Webb GI Bill Passes Senate, McCain Skips Vote
*** UPDATE BELOW ***
The Associated Press reports that the Webb GI Bill has passed the Senate:
Senate Republicans have broken with President Bush to help Democrats add support for veterans and the unemployed to a bill paying for another year of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The 75-22 vote also added billions of dollars in other domestic funds such as heating subsidies for the poor and money for fighting wildfires to the $165 billion for the military operations overseas.
...The huge tally in the Senate was driven by $15.6 billion over two years to extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks and more than $50 billion over the upcoming decade to provide returning Iraq war veterans with sharply increased college aid.
Both Sens. Obama and Clinton voted in favor of the bill. Sen. McCain skipped the vote (as did Sens. Tom Coburn and Ted Kennedy).
Howard Dean released a statement criticizing McCain for skipping the vote:
"America's veterans and military families deserve better than a candidate who is willing to keep our troops in Iraq for 100 years, but refuses to take care of them when they come home. The men and women in who volunteer to put on the uniform of the United States of America risk their lives to defend our freedoms, and we should do everything we can to help them be successful when they come home. While Senator McCain talks about supporting our troops and veterans on the campaign trail, his real record tells a much different story. While we honor his service to our country, Senator McCain's double talk on veterans' benefits is one more reason he is the wrong choice for America's future."
Obama also responded to McCain's absence:
I respect sen. John McCain's service to our country. He is one of those heroes of which I speak. But I can't understand why he would line up behind the President in his opposition to this GI bill.
I can't believe why he believes it is too generous to our veterans. I could not disagree with him and the President more on this issue. There are many issues that lend themselves to partisan posturing but giving our veterans the chance to go to college should not be one of them.
And McCain hammered back in a particularly harsh response:
"Perhaps, if Senator Obama would take the time and trouble to understand this issue he would learn to debate an honest disagreement respectfully. But, as he always does, he prefers impugning the motives of his opponent, and exploiting a thoughtful difference of opinion to advance his own ambitions. If that is how he would behave as President, the country would regret his election."...
"It is typical, but no less offensive that Senator Obama uses the Senate floor to take cheap shots at an opponent and easy advantage of an issue he has less than zero understanding of. Let me say first in response to Senator Obama, running for President is different than serving as President. The office comes with responsibilities so serious that the occupant can't always take the politically easy route without hurting the country he is sworn to defend. Unlike Senator Obama, my admiration, respect and deep gratitude for America's veterans is something more than a convenient campaign pledge. I think I have earned the right to make that claim."
UPDATE: Obama has responded to McCain, calling him out for making 'schoolyard taunts':
I am proud to stand with Senator Webb and a bipartisan coalition to give our veterans the support and opportunity they deserve. It's disappointing that Senator McCain and his campaign used this issue to launch yet another lengthy personal, political attack instead of debating an honest policy difference. He should know that this is not about John McCain or Barack Obama - it's about giving our veterans a real chance to afford four years of college without harming retention. Senator Webb's bipartisan bill will do this, and the bill that John McCain supports would not. These endless diatribes and schoolyard taunts from the McCain campaign do nothing to advance the debate about what matters to the American people.