- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 29, 2008

Speculation about Virginia Sen. Jim Webb’s prospects as a candidate for the Democratic vice presidential nomination got a boost last week with the passage of an important GI benefits bill — a signal achievement for a freshman lawmaker that won him praise from both parties.

The artfully crafted bill allowed Democrats to tangibly support U.S. troops while still opposing the war. The gesture toward troops straining to cope with near-constant deployments also drew no small amount of Republican support.

If President Bush signs the bill as expected, it will be one of the most significant pieces of legislation approved by Congress this year.

Just two years ago, the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat was waging a long-shot bid for Senate against popular Republican incumbent Sen. George F. Allen — having switched parties in order to mount a campaign against the war in Iraq.

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Today, the former Marine commander in Vietnam — where he earned the Navy Cross and the Silver Star, among many other medals — is increasingly seen on the shortlist of potential running mates for Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. It’s a posting he swears he doesn’t want.

In an interview Friday with The Washington Times, Mr. Webb focused on his legislative priorities.

“I hope that the way we have worked across the aisle on this legislation will be useful as we work on other issues,” Mr. Webb said. “I think it’s a good feeling when you can work together and get something like this done.”

Favorable reviews for the bill’s passage abound for the 62-year-old best-selling novelist, who also added to his credentials with the recent publication of a political book, “A Time to Fight.”

For the former Navy secretary under President Reagan to shepherd the measure through both chambers with no prior legislative experience makes the feat even more remarkable.

“It wouldn’t happen without his tenacity and willingness to push this proposal all the way to the end,” said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “It’s very impressive.”

Mr. Webb’s bill provides educational benefits to Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who served after 9/11, similar to those given to veterans returning from World War II. It provides full tuition, as well as money for fees, books and housing, at a public college in a veteran’s state of residence.

The bill — which had nearly 60 co-sponsors in the Senate, 302 in the House and will cost an estimated $62 billion over 10 years — also allows additional payments of up to $1,200 for tutorial assistance. As many as 450,000 veterans are expected to take advantage of the benefits offered by the bill.

The Senate passed the bill 92-6 Thursday as part of a war funding bill. The House — following Democrats’ concession that the benefits can be transferred to a recipient’s spouse or children — approved it the week before with a 416-12 vote.

Mr. Webb initially had to spar with the White House, Pentagon and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain on aspects of the measure.

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