- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2003

Lawmakers and veterans urged Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Edwards to stop blocking legislation aimed at easing student loan burdens for soldiers fighting overseas.

“It’s shameful that the members of our armed services are being held captive by political tactics,” said Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican and chairman of the House subcommittee that engineered the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (Heroes) Act.

The bill — which in effect would defer student loan payments for soldiers engaged in military operations — overwhelmingly passed the House in April just seven days after it was introduced.

Ever since, it has been stuck in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, of which Mr. Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, is a member. The presidential candidate opposed allowing a committee vote on the bill until an amendment he authored — which would be more generous to soldiers — was considered.

“Our troops deserve more than political infighting and stalling tactics,” said Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “We have an opportunity to prevent financial hardships for our men and women serving overseas by approving the Heroes legislation, and the fact that it is being held up for any reason, especially a desire to take personal credit, is unconscionable.”

North Carolina veterans also have reacted angrily.

“He’s out to make a name for himself to be president,” said Edward Parungo, commander of a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Mr. Edwards’ hometown of Raleigh. “He doesn’t care who he has to step on to do it.”

“If this is his policy towards our men and women in the military, then I’m deeply scared of what he’d be like as president,” said Conway Brooks, a disabled Army veteran from Raleigh.

A spokesman for Mr. Edwards denied any political motivation for his actions, except that the senator supported the bill and wanted to improve it.

Mr. Edwards’ Senate office confirmed Monday that he opposed moving the bill until after a vote on his amendment. But Tuesday morning, after The Washington Times reported that Mr. Edwards was blocking the bill, campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri hotly denied the report and said Mr. Edwards never opposed the measure.

In an e-mail to The Times later that day, Miss Palmieri said Mr. Edwards opposed moving the bill through committee under a “unanimous consent” agreement — a speedy legislative path for bills.

But, she added, “He has done nothing since that time to stand in the way of the bill.”

However, that is exactly why the bill is stalled in the committee, say several lawmakers and committee staffers who have been trying to push the bill through the Senate for the past three months.

“That’s the same thing as a hold,” explained one veteran staffer familiar with Senate committee procedures. “If someone objects to unanimous consent, it doesn’t kill the bill but it keeps it from moving.”

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