Saturday, May 31, 2008

Help Me Sort This Out

No, I’m not talking about what the DNC is doing today about Florida and Michigan. I’m talking about last Thursday’s (May 22) Senate’s approval of a war supplemental bill.
The Senate approved Thursday a two-part supplemental spending package that included $165 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as increased veterans' benefits and an extension of unemployment insurance and other domestic spending.

The first amendment, including the veterans' education and other domestic spending, was approved by a 75-22 margin.

The second amendment covered the $165 billion of war funds; it passed, 70-26.
What I hope you will help me sort out is why only 26 members of the Senate voted against the money to keep the war going for the rest of President Bush’s time in office. Was there a deal to vote up the veterans’ benefits and other domestic spending in exchange for approving more money for the war?

Or, was it a realistic bargain in view of the fact that the Senate couldn’t muster enough votes to restrict war funding?
The vote on the war funding came after the Senate failed to win enough support for the war funding and restrictions on the war funding, such as a mandate that U.S. forces be redeployed.
Understand me, I fully support the veteran benefits. They are long overdue, both the medical and education parts of the package. And I think I am grateful for Senator Webb’s leadership on this measure. While the provisions for the care of veterans are desperately needed, I suspect that Senator Webb would agree that the most important thing we could do for the health of our soldiers is to get them out of Iraq and that the worst thing we can do for their health is to keep them there.

This is what I hope you will help me understand: do we have only 26 Senators who are willing to vote for restricting funding and imposing conditions that would be in the best health interests of our soldiers—never mind all of the other reasons we should be out of Iraq?

I believe that the new G.I. bill (if it is approved by the House, if the President doesn’t veto it, or if he does and his veto is overridden by Congress) is not only a matter of justice for GIs, but is an investment in the country that will easily pay for itself in greater productivity, just as I believe it did after World War II. Let me explain.

In the mid-1950s at the ripe old age of 17 I enrolled in a small Texas college. I hadn’t learned to study and my only motivation for being there was to jump through the academic hurdle to get into the vocation I wanted. I was what they called then a “preacher boy,” one of a number of young people preparing to be ordained clergy. In addition to some other “kids” like me, I found a whole host of guys (and they all were “guys” then) also preparing for the ministry. But these guys were in their 30s and 40s, were married, and had kids. They were all veterans from World War II or Korea, or both. All of them bore the emotional and sometimes physical scars of war. The GI bill was making it possible for them to get a college education, something that had been out of their economic reach before.

What I remember most vividly about them was their excitement about learning. I was bored by Psychology 101 and all my other classes, but they had a desire to learn, not just get a degree. At the student union coffee shop we gathered to talk, and the talk was nearly always about what they were learning. They had enough life experience that they were ready to learn. They were way ahead of me, but I learned from them, and by the time we graduated, I too was excited about learning.

These are personal reasons and the men I knew best were ones preparing for the ministry, but there were others preparing for business, to be teachers, etc. I suspect that they brought the same excitement to learning that my friends did. Investing in their education seemed to me one of the best investments that could have been made in our country.

But wait a minute! If providing for their education was such a good national investment for veterans why would it not be an equally good investment for all young people who want college or vocational training? I like Obama’s call for
national service and his linking it education. His proposals are on the right track; but if we understood the value of the investment for the country, not to mention the individuals, they need to be greatly expanded.

When Congress comes back from its Memorial Day recess on June 3, the House will have to consider the supplemental appropriations bill the Senate passed on May 22nd. Harry Reid, after conversations with House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,
said "the GI bill of rights is going to be part of what we send to the president." What I haven’t seen anywhere—can you help me?—is whether or not the House will insist on restricting war funding.

Vetoing a bill that imposes restrictions on his power to continue the war is a certainty for President Bush. However, if he vetoes such a bill, and Congress does not pass another more to his liking, he will be denied war funding. The veterans’ benefits would be a casualty of such an impasse. Those provisions, basically Senator Webb’s amendment in the Senate, could be brought back as separate pieces of legislation. The pro-war Republicans might be in such a snit that those who voted for the benefits might not do so again.

As I see it, the hard question is this: is it more important at this time to do everything possible to put limitations on the war-making power of the President, or believing that not possible, to make the Senate’s deal to fund the war for the rest of this president’s term and in return get much needed veterans’ benefits?

Because I believe that we can get the veterans’ benefits in separate legislation and because little is more important than hindering the president’s power to make war, I hope the Congress will act for the greater benefit of the soldiers and halt the war funding. How do you want Reid and Pelosi to act on this?

- Milo

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