To piggyback on Scott’s last post on Sen. Jim Webb, I’d like to note that not only does his life story and worldview single him out as one of the most refreshing characters to grace the Democratic Big Tent in recent times, but he is learning how to get the job done on Capitol Hill – and to the great benefit of fellow veterans nationwide.
As a freshman junior senator from Virginia, Webb didn’t set out to blaze a path to glory, but instead quietly and methodically pulled together a bipartisan coalition of his colleagues on an issue dear to him and today it passed, by a veto-proof vote of 75 to 22. The legislation – of which a companion measure passed already in the House last week — will dramatically update the creaky GI Bill in order to give veterans enough dough to get through a four-year college education, depending on their time served.
Webb, who is a Vietnam vet and whose son served in Iraq, made sure the bill was bullet-proof before shopping it around the Hill and in the media for the last several weeks. It’s passage – thanks to the help of 26 Republicans – marks one of the biggest Democratic legislative victories this year, and gives them a healthy talking point in the November election, thanks to opposition from the White House, Pentagon and one senator by the name of John McCain.
President Bush wants to veto the measure, and his case is helped, if only because the Democrats attached $10 billion in additional domestic spending to the package. Ironically, the spending, which includes the extension of unemployment benefits and aid to the Gulf States, is what helped to bring some of the Republican stragglers like Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., on board at the last minute, in part because of their vulnerabilities in the fall elections.
But the real opposition from Bush and McCain and the defense brass is that they believe one stint in the active duty isn’t enough time to give to one’s country, that a full college tuition after three years might discourage servicemen and women from making the military a career. Webb and others say hogwash, if a guy or a gal spends three years – and we all know that amounts to at least one, or two years in the warzone today – they deserve whatever we can give ’em. Remember, even the draftees during Vietnam only spent a year overseas before they were let off the hook and they got a GI Bill that at the time paid for something. The old GI Bill, not adjusted for today’s skyrocketing tuition costs, won’t even get a vet through a four-year state school today.
McCain, who finally offered his own version of the bill after months of silence (he wanted to give benefits only after six years of service), did not show up for the vote Thursday. He was quickly admonished by the largely pro-Democratic VoteVets.org:
Senator John McCain failed to show up for a vote on an amendment that included the 21st Century GI Bill, offered by Senators Jim Webb and Chuck Hagel, instead choosing to raise money in California, including events sponsored by San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos.
Fortunately, the GI Bill passed, but McCain’s absence from the important debate irked Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans.
“We’re certainly pleased that the GI Bill has passed and now will likely go to the President, but disappointed that Senator McCain put his own coffers ahead of this crucial debate, and chose not to vote,” said Jon Soltz, Iraq War Veteran and Chairman of VoteVets.org. “Senator McCain knows how tough things are for those fighting in Iraq, and when they get home. All of us would love to spend time getting money and talking football. But, sometimes there are more important things to do in life. This is one of those times when Senator McCain could have showed some leadership by canceling his events and heading back to DC for this debate.”
Obama sent along his own zinger:
“I can’t understand why (McCain) would wind up behind the president in his opposition to this GI bill,” Obama said. “I could not disagree with him and the president more on this issue. There are many issues that lend themselves to partisan posturing but giving our veterans a chance to go to college is not one of them.”
McCain, as DailyKos put it, “flipped out” and sent along a 968-word statement (here posted by Marc Ambinder) , in which he cribbed his own foreign policy speech from the LA World Affairs Council in March, rehashing his childhood as a Navy brat as a backdrop to Obama’s ignorance about anything military — and takes a blast at him for not serving — and therefore couldn’t possibly know what he was talking about, supporting a bill that was authored by someone, incidentally, who does (Webb was also Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan).
It is interesting to note that McCain makes a big point of saying that Webb’s legislation would threaten the military’s cache of non-commissioned officers. What McCain fails to mention is that the current shortage of NCOs in the Army is due to the fact they are being promoted like crazy to fill the holes among junior and field grade officers. They’re leaving because the deployments are killing them. But I digress.
Webb got the better of the administration today, and of McCain, who has been setting up all week a campaign against Obama that would paint him as dumb, dumber and dumbest on foreign policy and defense issues. Someone like Webb would be a good ally for Obama, though he has yet to offer his much-coveted endorsement. Stay tuned.