McCain's Distortions on the Webb GI Bill

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.

Tags: John McCain, veterans (all tags)

Comments

29 Comments

Re: McCain's Distortions on the Webb GI Bill

We need more congressmen who support our veterans.

Like Bil O'Neill - Memorial Day Donor Bomb has raised over $300 so far, but I know we can do better than that...

by X Stryker 2008-05-26 03:39PM | 0 recs
Another example of GOP Greed ...

They should be called the Greedy Old Party instead of Grandiose Old Party

by architek 2008-05-26 04:13PM | 0 recs
Re: the Greedy Old Party

   I've been calling them that for years and I encourage others to do so as well.   Thanks!!!

by Zack from the SFV 2008-05-26 06:24PM | 0 recs
Godforsaken Old Pricks?

by semiquaver 2008-05-26 07:35PM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Distortions on the Webb GI Bill

I still don't understand why, ESPECIALLY in an election year, McCain is coming out against this.  Perhaps he's trying to seem fiscally responsible (as if $12 billion/month on war doesn't destroy that image)?  I don't get it.  This seems like a big mistake.

by freedom78 2008-05-26 03:39PM | 0 recs
maybe something to do...

..with George Bush surgically attached at the hip. McCain got backed into a corner by the gamesmanship between the Democratic congressional leadership and the administration.

by Casuist 2008-05-26 03:44PM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Distortions on the Webb GI Bill

Maybe this is what we can expect as more of his lobbyist/campaign advisors are forced to quit.

I agree though- going against funding veterans education, especially with the raw deal the Iraq and Afghanistan vets are getting wrt their health care and other benefits, is political suicide, I would think.

by skohayes 2008-05-26 04:09PM | 0 recs
Why do Repubs hate our troops?

Why do Republicans hate America?

by Bush Bites 2008-05-26 03:46PM | 0 recs
Because they feel they own it and they are

angry at anyone who suggests that we all own it.

"Republican" = republic = rule by a plutocratic, supposedly educated elite - not "mob rule" as they describe direct democracy..

see Plato's "Republic"

by architek 2008-05-26 04:16PM | 0 recs
This just in...

McCain is a scumbag.

by SpanishFly 2008-05-26 03:59PM | 0 recs
Re: This just in...

yeppers, the Straight Talk Express ran over the truth again

by zerosumgame 2008-05-26 04:18PM | 0 recs
Any chance Webb swings back?

Don't you think this can be a good chance for Webb to get a in a hit or 2?

by spacemanspiff 2008-05-26 04:04PM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Distortions on the Webb GI Bill

Once enlistees are not subject to multiple tours in combat..retention will increase as will the quality of those that enlist.

by nogo postal 2008-05-26 04:11PM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Distortions on the Webb GI Bill

McCain's argument emphasizes the fact that he wants to keep men and women in the military out of necessity as opposed to dedication to service. Our military personnel are stretched to the breaking point. Suicide rates are a scandal for among other reasons that too many soldiers feel trapped, forced to re-enlist out of necessity.

by weltec2 2008-05-26 04:18PM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Distortions on the Webb GI Bill

Although I think that McCain is busily pandering on all sides, there are several rational reasons to oppose the new GI Bill. (I've not yet decided whether or not I oppose it.)

a) Yes, we all support the troops, but that does not mean that we should provide unlimited compensation. Should we offer every soldier who serves a single day in Iraq a billion dollars? Of course not. Should we offer every soldier who serves three years a full college education? Perhaps. Should we require four years of service for a full college education? Perhaps.

b) While the study finds that the net number of enlistees might be about zero, there seems to be no doubt that the average years of service would decline. It's generally better to have a 6-yr noncom than a 1-yr private.

McCain is doing his usual tap dance, but there are legitimate questions here.

--Kibitzer

by Kibitzer 2006 2008-05-26 04:38PM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Distortions on the Webb GI Bill

I don't get your point 1. The GI bill after World War II was a wild success not just for the individual veterans but for ramping up our civil economy generally.

As for your second point, it seems that looking at number of years in service is a misleading isolated metric. Don't you have to consider the possible mental wear and tear, stress, and strain, which affects these men and women, but also deteriorates their job performance? I think it's hard to argue that simply longer and longer serving troops is unequivocally a net positive.

I think you verge on a possibly compelling point when it comes to the issue of developing noncoms, something McCain has spoken to a couple times. My response to that is that it's simply too incredible for me to accept that the only way we can maintain an adequate force of non-commissioned officers is to deny them any substantial benefits until they re-enlist multiple times. So that small issue should not be a barrier to the passage of a long overdue revamped GI Bill.

by brimur 2008-05-26 04:48PM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Distortions on the Webb GI Bill

It's not just developing noncoms. Retention is more cost effective than recruiting because of the training costs. I am not saying I oppose the bill, just that there are rational reasons to oppose it.

by itsthemedia 2008-05-26 05:37PM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Distortions on the Webb GI Bill

That's an important point you make, I think. But what about the costs of treating soldiers for various psychological issues relating to prolonged terms of duty?

by brimur 2008-05-26 07:11PM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Distortions on the Webb GI Bill

Yes. It is a complicated issue. All I can say for sure is that the Bush Administration's approach has been disgraceful. Every year their budget request for veterans' care is slashed. They treat our soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen as if they are disposable items, not real men and women.

by itsthemedia 2008-05-26 08:42PM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Distortions on the Webb GI Bill

First, I'm in general agreement with you, and suspect that I will ultimately come down on the side of supporting the new GI bill.

My point (a) was that we should certainly compensate our troops for their service. Although I didn't state it, I believe we should err on the side of generous benefits. However it really doesn't make sense to say, "nothing is too good for those who served." That was my point about a billion dollars for one day of service.

As you point out, the economic benefits of the educations provided by the original GI bill went way beyond the individual veterans. But that's a different issue. I think it would be wonderful if we could find a way to ensure that everyone who could benefit from a college education could afford it, veteran or not. In the long run it might well make economic sense to extend free public education through college.

My point (b) was that in any organization (military, business, political party, ...), experience is generally useful. No, I don't want the military staffed entirely by veterans with 30+ years of service. Nor do I think it would be wise to have it staffed entirely by "30-day wonders". We need a mix, and we need to provide the incentives to create that mix. If we want to retain skilled soldiers we have to provide incentives to remain in the military--just as any employer must. That means that those who remain longer should receive greater benefits. I would not "deny them any substantial benefits until they re-enlist multiple times", but I would provide greater benefits to those who serve longer than to those who serve shorter. How great those benefits should/must be is a matter of debate.

As I say, I think we should come down on the generous side in all cases.

--Kibitzer

by Kibitzer 2006 2008-05-26 08:46PM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Distortions on the Webb GI Bill

It's always easy to create excuses for doing nothing.

by Freespeechzone 2008-05-26 04:56PM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Distortions on the Webb GI Bill

I'm not normally someone who shouts at the TV, but when I turned mine on this morning and saw McBush contradicting everything he's done in the past weeks with regard to Webb's GI Bill, I did.

It was a most lame and unconvincing performance on his part which surely fooled none but the stupidist.

by Freespeechzone 2008-05-26 04:53PM | 0 recs
Unfortunately, "progressives" would
rather distort what Hillary said than go after the distortions of McCain.
Who were the Obama folk going after on TV all weekend?  Hillary, not McCain.
by kosnomore 2008-05-26 06:16PM | 0 recs
Re: Unfortunately, "progressives" would

who were the Hillary people going after again?

by Xris 2008-05-26 07:16PM | 0 recs
Since NBC didn't have one pro HRC

panelist all weekend, I don't knw who/what HRC  was spinning this weekend.  I guess MTP couldn't find any pro Hillary pundit.

by kosnomore 2008-05-26 08:24PM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Distortions on the Webb GI Bill

JOhn McCain votes against the troops time and time again.

I appreciate his military service of 40 years ago.

I do not appreciate how he votes on military issues today.

by HillsMyGirl 2008-05-26 07:21PM | 0 recs
Re: McCain's Distortions on the Webb GI Bill

The significant points here are the critical elements of NCO's especially and lower ranking servicemena and women.

According to McCain, the idea of holding out a generous reward to NCo's troops who have done 34 years is terrible because it encourages them to take the college benefit and leave. the present system has a class of lifers who are good soldiers, and not college materialor do not have a strong desire to pursue that sort of career.

 The original GI bill passed in 1944 with millions in the Armed forces was designed to cushion the shock of a huge influx back into civilian life, give long delayed educations a boost by encouraging them and assisting colleges which had shrunk dutring the war, and create a trained group,addirtional opportunities while the country retooled from war to peacetime employment.

Except for social security, this was maybe the best planned policy ever of the federal government.

 The numbers indicate a decline of 16% in retention, but an big increase in new recruiting because of the generous bonus that a full education means.

I believe it is fundamental ideological hatred of ordinary Americans by the republican elite and the horror of a generous quid pro quo for just plain folks that the elites despise.

If we have all those educated people who will the republicans then feel superior too?  There really isn't a compelling logic to their opposition.
Lindsey Graham,McCain had family help and college done before going active duty. The idea that EM's (enlisted men) can qualify after 4 years of service (the standard since 1945) seems too destabilizing to the power relationships and control they love so much.  

 

by PeteRock 2008-05-26 07:38PM | 0 recs
McCain is Correct but Wrong

On a purely technical military personnel basis the argument McCain presents is correct. But so what. Some things are just the right thing to do. And that is how the argument should be made.

Listen I coded the Army's enlisted personnel model in the early 80's. If we let the argument shift to retention vs recruitment rates or the costs of training vs mental health we lose.

This is a character issue, a moral issue and we should not be diverted from that in anyway.

Doing the right thing may be hard but it is never wrong.

by Judeling 2008-05-26 09:21PM | 0 recs
We need to hit McCain on his lack of integrity

Seems McCain's strategy is: he's not on record voting against it, so he can't get attacked for that.

I think that's untrue, but I also think there may be a better way to go at him than solely his opposition to this bill.

McCain's image is one of principle.  But what if some ads were run arguing that despite speaking out forcefully before and after the vote, he didn't have the courage of his convictions to actually vote against it?

I think we need to go after his pretense of integrity more than we need to say that he is just wrong on the issues.  A lot of people, as we all know, vote for character over issues.

by bruorton 2008-05-27 05:27AM | 0 recs

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