“The GI Bill gives emphatic notice to the men and women in our armed forces that the American people do not intend to let them down.”
(Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on signing the original G.I Bill for returning veterans)
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) is leading an effort to pass a new GI Bill of educational benefits for veterans. What is the bill, what will it cost, and where do Wisconsin’s U.S. Senators and Members of Congress stand?
The “New G.I. Bill” would improve the educational benefits available to veterans who have served since 9-11-01 by increasing them to match the highest public university tuition in a given recipient’s state and providing a monthly housing stipend. The intent is to make the benefits of the New G.I. Bill roughly equivalent to the benefits provided to returning veterans after WWII.
The WWII era G.I. Bill is estimated to have returned seven dollars to the economy (in increased productivity and economic activity, and increased tax receipts) for every dollar spent on funding. The New GI Bill is supported by all major veterans organizations.
Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of IAVA, says improving GI Bill benefits for veterans should not be a controversial issue. “Many people … say they support the troops, and we believe they do,” Rieckhoff said. “Now it is time for them to put their money where their mouth is.” Two billion dollars a year is needed for the program, which equals less than the cost of one week of the continuing occupation of Iraq.
To offset this cost, the legislation includes a surtax of just under half a percent, that would apply to adjusted gross income (AGI) over a million dollars for married couples and over half a million dollars for other taxpayers. New figures from Citizens for Tax Justice show that 3 out of 1000 taxpayers would be affected by such a tax. The total surtax would amount to only about 7 percent of the massive tax cuts on dividends, capital gains, large estates, and income those persons have received since the start of the invasion and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Robert S. McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice, said “Lawmakers who oppose this proposal will prove that they really do value tax cuts for the wealthy over all else.” (I don’t know if this proves that those politicians value tax cuts for the wealthy over all else. But it sure proves that they value tax cuts for the wealthy during wartime over providing educational assistance to returning veterans.)
The U.S. Congress passed the New G.I. Bill (HR5740) with a vote of 256 to 166 on May 16. The U.S. Senate passed the New G.I. Bill (S22) with a vote of 75 to 22 on May 21. (Click on the links in this paragraph to see how your Senators and Representative voted.) All except two of Wisconsin’s elected delegation of ten U.S. Senators and Members of Congress voted for the New G.I. Bill. Which two voted NO?
ONE – Though he had plenty of opportunity to demonstrate his life-long pro-war beliefs with action, during the 12 years of U.S. combat in Vietnam, F. James Sensenbrenner has no military experience. He loves photo ops with troops in uniform and wears a flag pin in his lapel. Sensenbrenner’s web site has a passage that asserts, “During times of war and conflict, our nation has relied heavily on the men and women of our military to protect us and our allies… The very least America can do in return is provide our veterans, Reservists, and National Guardsmen with opportunities to find employment, so that they can take care of themselves and their families.” Sensenbrenner has demonstrated repeatedly that he intends to do just that – the very least he can for returning veterans. He supports tax credits for businesses that hire veterans. But when the G.I. Bill came up, F.J. Sensenbrenner voted against the New G.I. Bill.
TWO – Paul Ryan is of a later generation, and he also has no military experience. Ryan declares on his web site, “We owe a continuing debt of gratitude to our nation’s veterans. Our thanks can be expressed in large part by how we care for them.” How did he express his “care for them”? Paul Ryan voted against the New G.I. Bill.
Senator Chuck Hagel’s web site has an op-ed co-written by Senator James Webb (VA) and Senator Chuck Hagel (NE) endorsing the new G.I. Bill. It’s really worth reading this article by two combat infantrymen who fought in the same war and have both become U.S. Senators. Chuck Hagel is a member of the Republican Party, while Jim Webb is a member of the Democratic Party.
Now that both the Senate and the House of Representatives have passed it by very wide margins, the New G.I. Bill (S22/HR5740) goes to President Bush for his signature.