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GI Bill on the Move

House lawmakers plan to attach an updated GI Bill to the $178 billion Iraq spending package set to hit the chamber floor Thursday — a move that could lead to a showdown with the Bush administration, which opposes the proposal.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), has strong bipartisan support in both chambers, but the White House and a number of conservatives oppose the plan as being too generous.

The editors at summarized the complaints Monday:

Webb’s bill, cosponsored by Sen. Chuck Hagel, would provide the full range of benefits after only three years, thus eliminating one of the most valuable incentives to troop retention.

Under current law, the full benefits vest only after six years, which means that soldiers who have served three years and are facing a second deployment — the most valuable soldiers in the military — have an incentive to stay through that deployment in order to get their college tuition fully covered, in most cases. The Webb-Hagel bill would eliminate this incentive, which is one reason Defense Secretary Robert Gates opposes it.

Bill supporters say that’s nonsense, arguing that the better benefit: (1) is deserved, and (2) will help recruitment. Democrats are sly to bring the bill to the floor now, all but daring conservative opponents to vote against an expanded vets benefit just before Memorial Day in an election year.

But by attaching the proposal to the Iraq supplemental bill, House leaders may attract some opposition from their own ranks. Emergency spending bills are exempt from pay-as-you-go budget rules, making them attractive for lawmakers hoping to pass pet projects without having to pay for them. But budget hawks, including a number of conservative Democrats, decry the method for adding to already enormous budget deficits.

today reported on one such Democrat:

"The GI bill is a classic example of something we’d love to do if it were paid for,” Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition and a senior Democrat on the Budget Committee, told The Hill Monday.

He suggested the bill would not properly honor veterans if it contributed to the U.S. budget deficit.

“I bet most veterans would be shocked to learn that we’re putting their needs on a credit card instead of paying for them like we should,” Cooper said.

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