McCain's Distortions on the Webb GI Bill
by Jonathan Singer, Mon May 26, 2008 at 03:30:03 PM EDT
This past week John McCain failed to show up for the important vote on a measure that would increase benefits for veterans -- a 21st century update to the G.I. bill -- legislation that he opposed in rhetoric but would not officially do so in the congressional record. Today, McCain went further, taking a swing at the legislation, saying that the increased benefits could lower the number of troops serving in the U.S. military.
Sen. John McCain asserted that the G.I. Bill sponsored by Virginia Sen. James Webb will drive soldiers out of the armed services at a time when the country is trying to expand the size of the military.
Speaking at a Memorial Day ceremony, McCain praised Webb as "an honorable man who takes his responsibility to veterans very seriously." And he said the bill, which would increase benefits for veterans after serving one tour, is a way of offering the nation's "deep appreciation" for the veterans who have served.
But McCain insisted that he takes "a backseat to no one in my affection, respect and devotion to veterans." And he predicted that Webb's bill would reduce the military's retention rate by 16 percent.
McCain is correct that the measure could decrease the retention rate. But he is only telling half of the story, and in doing so is clearly distorting the record. Here Time magazine:
Supporters of Webb and Hagel's bill dismiss McCain's concerns about the retention issue. While the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill would cause a 16% drop in re-enlistment rates across all four branches of the military, the same study also predicts a 16% uptick in new recruits attracted by the benefit. [emphasis added]
Reading through the CBO report (.pdf), I'm having difficulty ascertaining precisely whether the increase in new recruits would be larger than the potential decrease in retentions, roughly the same, or possibly less. But it would stand to reason that on the whole these numbers should basically balance themselves out, ensuring that the overall troop level is not at all harmed by the measure -- contrary to the rhetoric of McCain.
Taking away this objection, it's hard, then, to understand the reason behind opposing the bill. If it doesn't decrease force strength yet it ensures that the troops who have dedicated and sacrificed so much for their country can afford to receive a top-notch education following their term of service, it's difficult for me to see what, if any, negative impact that this measure would have. In fact, on the House side the costs of the legislation are offset, meaning that the benefits would not be achieved through deficit spending. Accordingly, McCain's basis for opposing this measure sure seem to be rather thin.