Gee That's a Funny GI Bill

By David Swanson

Something called the “GI Bill” passed both houses of Congress with large majorities in recent weeks. It really would provide educational benefits to veterans, but it’s not a bill. It’s an amendment. It could be introduced as a bill, pass again with large majorities, and probably even override a veto. Or it could die from repeated vetoes after being passed repeatedly, a goal the Democrats have treated as their ideal dream outcome for all sorts of other bills over the past year and a half. Of course, even if the GI amendment is signed into law, the current president may eliminate it with a “signing statement.”

Senator Jim Webb (Dem., Va.) introduced the “GI Bill” as an independent bill on his first day in office, but there is no plan to pass it and send it to the president as an independent bill. The GI Amendment in its current form can only be passed or become law along with another piece of legislation, one that would dump two-thirds of a trillion dollars (plus interest payments to China) into occupying Iraq for another year, thereby creating tens of thousands of severely injured veterans, and thereby swamping the new educational program with many more veterans than it will be funded to handle.

The perversity of this is not lost of Webb. He openly supports it. Webb favors funding an extended occupation in Iraq, in order to fund veterans education along with it. He voted Yes on war funding last week in a separate vote that did not include the veterans’ money, because he wants to pass both things together. Here’s how perverse this is:

1. For what Webb supports spending on occupying Iraq, we could make college in the United States free to everyone for many years to come, not just for certain veterans.

2. Making college less expensive for some thousands of veterans can hardly justify killing some other thousands of soldiers, killing tens of thousands of Iraqis, and seriously injuring hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Americans, even if the proposal were not denying us free universal higher education.

3. A measure worth 1.6 percent of the funding being voted on should not dominate the debate. Rather, the other 98.4 percent of the funding under consideration (in other words the war money) ought to be seen as the larger item.

4. While we all want to care for veterans, many of us would like to care for non-veterans too, and nobody has asked our unborn great grandchildren what they are willing to be indebted to China in order to pay for.

5. The biggest help anyone could give to members of the US military would be to stop funding the occupation of Iraq and get them home. Rather than opposing this point, Webb argues for it, painting himself as a “critic” of the same war he funds. Yet he insists on funding it for the sake of passing along with it that 1.6 percent of funding for veterans, funding that will never begin to keep up with the flow of veterans whom Webb is condemning to lives of horror and pain, brain injury and PTSD, amputation and disfigurement, poverty and premature death.

So, where do things stand? The House voted No on the war money, yes on the “GI Bill,” and yes on some silly non-binding “timeline” nonsense. The Senate voted yes on the war money and yes on the “GI Bill.” The House is expected to vote next week, more than likely on exactly what passed the Senate.

In the previous war money vote in the House, 147 Democrats and 2 Republicans voted No, while some other Republicans voted “present.” Only 141 voted Yes, so it failed. If the vote on the war money this time around includes the relatively microscopic veterans funding in the same vote, some truly nasty Republicans will vote No out of opposition to the veterans funding, but some other Democrats and Republicans who might have voted No will vote Yes, using the “GI Bill” as cover.

We need to pressure every member of the House right now to vote No on war money no matter what else is attached to it.