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On GI Bill, Obama Hopes to Draw Distinction from McCain

As presidential hopeful Barack Obama shifts his focus from the primary contest to the general election, he’s trumpeting his support for a congressional proposal to extend education benefits to post-9/11 vets — and reminding voters that the likely GOP nominee, John McCain, opposes the same plan.

The distinction could prove a tough one for McCain. Though the Arizona senator has a GI Bill proposal of his own, it doesn’t go nearly as far as the Obama-supported plan, sponsored by Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), which is expected to reach the House floor this week. McCain has adopted the White House line that the Webb bill — which offers full state tuition after three years of service — is so generous that it would entice troops to leave the military earlier than they otherwise might. (The McCain plan, meanwhile, offers a $1,500 monthly stipend after six years of service).

On the stump in West Virginia today, Obama emphasized the divide:

I have great respect for John McCain’s service to this country and I know he loves it dearly and honors those who serve. But he is one of the few senators of either party who oppose this bill because he thinks it’s too generous. I couldn’t disagree more. At a time when the skyrocketing cost of tuition is pricing thousands of Americans out of a college education, we should be doing everything we can to give the men and women who have risked their lives for this country the chance to pursue the American Dream.

Democrats hope to have the bill to the president before Memorial Day. The significance of McCain’s opposition to the stronger benefit might soon be revealed.

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