NAICU Washington Update

Expanded GI Benefits Advance Through Congress

Legislation expanding GI Bill benefits continues to make its way through Congress as part of the Iran-Afghanistan supplemental appropriations bill (See WIR 4/28/08 and 5/12/08) but not without increasing political battles.

The House of Representatives has approved an amendment to the appropriations bill to expand GI Bill benefits as provided by the "Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2007" (S. 22 and H.R. 5740). The amendment was passed on May 15.

Under the measure, veterans with three years of service since September 11, 2001, would be eligible for a tuition benefit up to the cost of in-state tuition at the most expensive public college in a state. The in-state tuition figure is simply a cap on the tuition benefit; this same amount would be available to a veteran who chooses to attend a private institution.

The amendment also creates a program under which the federal government would match dollar-for-dollar any contributions that colleges and universities make to help veterans cover tuition costs above the maximum in-state public college tuition amount.

The cost of the measure is estimated at $52 billion over 10 years. At the urging of the fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats, the House approved a 0.47 percent surcharge on those with incomes over $500,000 ($1 million for couples) to offset the cost of the measure.

The following week, by a vote of 75 to 22, the Senate approved adding the expanded GI Bill benefits to the supplemental appropriations bill. Unlike the House, the Senate did not offset the cost of the provisions. The bill has been returned to the House for further action following the Memorial Day recess.

In the meantime, President Bush has threatened to veto the legislation because it includes provisions not related to the funding of military operations in Iran and Afghanistan. He has explicitly opposed the GI Bill provisions on the basis that it would adversely affect military retention. He has endorsed an alternative proposal introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Richard Burr (R-N.C.). Their proposal ties more generous GI Bill benefits to longer periods of military service, and has a much more complex - and potentially unworkable - provision for colleges that provide additional institutional aid to veterans.

Given the mix of military spending with policy, presidential politics, budget, veterans, and other domestic spending issues, the road to enactment of the supplemental appropriations bill is bound to contain many more twists and turns in the weeks ahead.

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