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McCain Hesitant to Support GI Bill for Post-9/11 Vets

While Sen. John McCain is busy bolstering his friend-of-the-military image in the Middle East this week, Democratic Sen. Jim Webb (Va.) is calling on the GOP presidential nominee to show similar troop support at home by endorsing a proposal to update the GI Bill, The Hill’s Roxana Tiron reported today.

While 50 senators (including nine Republicans) have joined Webb in supporting the proposal, McCain has yet to do so, despite entreaties from Webb. Webb spokeswoman Kimberly Hunter said that having McCain on board would “bring more Republicans over to support the bill.”

McCain’s office did not return a call for comment.

Under Webb’s bill, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans would be eligible for up to four academic years of benefits, including tuition at rates as high as those covering the most expensive state school. Additional stipends would provide for books and housing. Webb has said the plan would take the meager benefit under the current Montgomery GI Bill — which provides a maximum of $9,600 annually — and transform it into something closer to the robust benefit enjoyed by World War II veterans. The additional cost to the federal government would be roughly $2 billion a year, Hunter said, though the Congressional Budget Office has yet to produce an official score.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration has quietly opposed Webb’s proposal — charging that it costs too much and will encourage military personnel to leave service early. Supporters of the Webb initiative counter that it’s the least the country can do to recognize the troops’ sacrifice. As for the military’s troubles keeping troops in their boots, well, Bush critics point out that it’s probably not an education benefit that’s discouraging higher numbers.

“The Iraq war is the reason for the retention problem they have,” Hunter said.

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