06/06/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Nickels and Dimes: Why the White House Opposes the GI Bill

Anyone with a pulse knows that the Pentagon has a history of wasting huge sums of money. Just last week, an internal audit found that the Army squandered $8.2 billion of taxpayer money on contractors in Iraq.

Sadly, while their wallets always seem to be open for the contractors, the administration has a habit of tightening the purse strings when it comes to the troops. From body armor to bonuses, our troops continue to be shortchanged. Currently, the administration is "strongly opposing" a 0.5 percent pay raise for troops passed by Congress, calling it "unnecessary."

And now, the administration is threatening to do it again. The Department of Defense and the administration have come out against the new GI Bill. The GI Bill, originally introduced by Senators Webb (D-VA), Hagel (R-NE), Warner (R-VA) and Lautenberg (D-NJ), is one of the single most supported pieces of legislation in Congress right now. It has over 300 cosponsors in the House, and almost 60 in the Senate. It's also got the support of all the leading Veterans Service Organizations, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, and of course IAVA.

The administration's argument is that if a GI Bill benefit is too good, it'll reward veterans too richly for their service and draw them away from re-enlisting:

Seriously though, it is both shocking and appalling that after seven years of war, anyone thinks an education at one of our nation's public colleges is more than our troops have earned. It is also profoundly implausible and insulting to argue that the troops who have continued to re-enlist and to serve, even under the incredible strain of multiple combat tours, would suddenly abandon the military in droves.

Opponents of the new GI Bill will tell you the retention issue is a question of national security. It isn't. It"s a question of money. If these guys were so worried about keeping troops in the military, why not suck it up and just give these troops a pay raise? How about 15% across the board? Or how about they accept that troops who've served multiple combat tours deserve a bonus?

The Congressional Budget Office estimated how much it would cost to make up any retention loss: $145 million over five years. A huge number to normal people, but it's a pittance compared to what we're already spending on recruiting and retention ($5 billion dollars a year), or what our annual military budget is (around $600 billion a year). In fact, the total cost to make up any drop in recruitment over five years is equal to what we're spending every TWELVE HOURS in Iraq.

But what really kills me about the retention argument is how short-sighted it is. You can't retain troops you've never recruited in the first place. Since 2004, our military has been struggling to meet recruiting goals. We're spending $4 billion a year to bring folks into the military, and we're still having to lower our enlistment standards. In 2007, only 79% of new Army enlistees had a high-school diploma. The maximum age for a new recruit has been raised to 42 from 35. And 12 percent of recruits are receiving waivers for criminal convictions.

We can do better. As Senator Webb, former Secretary of the Navy, has said, a new GI Bill would strengthen our military by encouraging more high-aptitude, college-bound young people to join up. Getting money for an education is the number one reason civilians enlist in the first place. A new GI Bill is an amazing opportunity to keep the promise we made to our veterans and to revitalize our military, all in one step.

UPDATE: For some more laughs on the Administration's argument, click here.