- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A popular “21st Century GI Bill” increasing college tuition benefits for veterans could reach the House floor next week, though Democrats may try to attach it to a war spending bill, placing President Bush in a difficult political position.

The measure, which would provide educational benefits similar to those given to veterans returning from World War II, would double the college tuition assistance given to many veterans who served after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The legislation boasts strong bipartisan and bicameral support. It is co-sponsored by 58 senators and 250 House members and endorsed by many of the nation’s leading veterans organizations.

“We need to move expeditiously to get this vital piece of legislation passed this year for our returning Iraq and Afghanistan service members,” said Sen. Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat and lead sponsor of the measure. “The educational benefits in this bill are crucial to a service member’s readjustment to civilian life and as a cost of war that should receive the same priority that funding the war has received the last five years.”

Democratic leaders are considering whether to include the measure as an amendment to Mr. Bush’s $108 billion supplemental request for 2008 war spending, several Democratic congressional aides said yesterday.

The president has said he would veto any supplemental measure that exceeds his budget request.

“I will not accept a supplemental over [$108 billion] or a supplemental that micromanages the war,” he said.

The president said he prefers a veterans education package that would allow the transfer of benefits to a spouse or children, as proposed by several Senate Republicans.

“We’ve sent legislation to that effect up to Congress [and] we would like for them to move on it quickly,” Mr. Bush said yesterday.

The Webb proposal wouldn’t allow veterans to transfer benefits.

The bill’s educational benefits would be available to all members of the military who have served at least three months of active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, including activated reservists and National Guardsmen. Veterans generally would receive assistance proportional to service.

“To me, it’s a moral obligation to reward the troops for what they’ve done since 9/11,” said Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and co-sponsor of the House version of the bill.

Mr. Webb’s bill would add $2.5 billion to $4 billion annually to the current $2 billion veterans education program, though a final price tag is still being evaluated, his office said.

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