Thursday, May 8, 2008

REVIVING THE GI BILL OF RIGHTS

BOB HERBERT, NY TIMES At the top of the list of no-brainers in Washington should be Senator Jim Webb's proposed expansion of education benefits for the men and women who have served in the armed forces since Sept. 11, 2001.. . . Senator Webb, a Virginia Democrat, has been the guiding force behind this legislation, which has been dubbed the new G.I. bill. The measure is decidedly bipartisan. Mr. Webb's principal co-sponsors include Republican Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and John Warner of Virginia, and Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. . . Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are on board, as are Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, and Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House.. . .

The Bush administration opposes it, and so does Senator John McCain. Reinvigorating the G.I. bill is one of the best things this nation could do. The original G.I. Bill of Rights, signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944, paid the full load of a returning veteran's education at a college or technical school and provided a monthly stipend. It was an investment that paid astounding dividends. Millions of veterans benefited, and they helped transform the nation. College would no longer be the exclusive preserve of the wealthy and those who crowned themselves the intellectual elite. As The New York Times wrote on the 50th anniversary of the G.I. bill: 'Few laws have done so much for so many.'

The Bush administration opposes the new G.I. bill primarily on the grounds that it is too generous, would be difficult to administer and would adversely affect retention. This is bogus. The estimated $2.5 billion to $4 billion annual cost of the Webb proposal is dwarfed by the hundreds of billions being spent on the wars we're asking service members to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. What's important to keep in mind is that the money that goes to bolstering the education of returning veterans is an investment, in both the lives of the veterans themselves and the future of the nation.

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