Thursday, May 1, 2008

McCain's Support for GI Bill Expansion Remains Elusive

John McCain has come under intense pressure from veterans groups to endorse legislation that would expand education benefits for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. The measure has been gaining momentum in Congress and may be attached to a war spending measure that Congress is expected to take up soon.

As my colleague outlines on The Chronicle's Campaign U. blog this week, the lead sponsor of the legislation, Sen. James H. Webb Jr., a Virginia Democrat, has secured 58 co-sponsors for his bill, only two votes shy of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. But Senator McCain, a fellow Vietnam veteran, is not among them.

Senator Webb’s bill would cover up to the full cost of a four-year education at a public college, and supporters see Senator McCain’s backing as key to the bill’s prospects.

The senator, who often touts his military credentials on the campaign trail, has said he will co-sponsor a less costly Republican alternative instead. That bill, which has far fewer co-sponsors than Senator Webb’s bill, would provide a smaller initial benefit but raise the award after 12 years of service to encourage re-enlistment. The Defense Department has warned that providing too generous an educational benefit could harm retention rates.

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