Last week I told you about a press conference in which leading Republicans and Democrats got together to call for a new GI Bill. And I said we'd have to wait to see if action was going to follow up those words. Tomorrow, we find out.
Congress has a historic choice to make. The House of Representatives is set to vote on a World War II-style GI Bill for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as an amendment to emergency supplemental war funding bill. And lawmakers will have to go on record as to whether they truly support our nation's newest generation of veterans.
The 21st Century GI Bill (S.22/H.R.5740) was originally introduced in Congress by some of the Senate's own combat veterans, including Senators Jim Webb and Chuck Hagel. This bill has the extraordinary bipartisan support of 57 Senators and 278 Representatives and the endorsement of every major Veterans Service Organization from the American Legion to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). About ten pieces of legislation in Congress today have that kind of bipartisan support -- and half of those bills authorize new stamps and coins. That a bill of this magnitude has such overwhelming support is almost unheard of.
This legislation would substantially increase the educational benefits available to service members who have served since September 11, 2001. It would cover the cost of tuition of up to the most expensive in-state public school and provide a living and book stipend, so new veterans can focus on their educations and readjusting to civilian life. The new GI Bill would also provide more equitable benefits to National Guardsman and Reservists, who have made up about a quarter of our fighting force in Iraq. And educational benefits would be linked to the cost of college, so they would keep their value over time. It is, in short, the right thing to do for the men and women who have made such a tremendous commitment to our country.
The momentum for a 21st Century GI Bill has been incredible. But it's time to finish the job. Tomorrow, we urge every member of Congress to vote "yes" on GI Bill funding and show unanimous support for our troops.
UPDATE: Typical gridlock in Washington has pushed the vote to early next week. And there will probably be more delays in the future as this bill goes through the Senate and to the President. The important thing is that in all this political wrangling, we don't lose sight of what this bill is supposed to be about: support for our troops. The GI Bill belongs in the emergency supplemental because it is a cost of war, and it's part of our promise to care for our troops. It's no different from bullets, body armor or bandages for the wounded. This bill has the support of more than half the House and half the Senate, and we expect to get past these procedural hurdles. At the end of the day, no patriotic American would understand if a member of Congress votes for a $100-plus billion dollar war bill and then nickel-and-dimes the troops who are fighting that war.