(CNN) – Two presidential candidates were back on Capitol Hill Thursday, but the third was noticeably absent.
Presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain campaigned in California as his Senate colleagues voted to approve a measure that many Republicans and war veterans support – but he opposes.
The legislation, an updated version of the GI Bill, passed the Senate Thursday afternoon by a wide 75-22 vote margin and passed the House earlier this month by a similarly wide margin, proposes to essentially provide a full scholarship to in-state public universities for members of the military who have served for at least three years.
But McCain, as well as President Bush and much of the military brass, oppose the measure because they worry it will deplete retention rates among those currently serving in the military at a time when recruitment efforts are already struggling.
And in what is a sign of just how much of political issue this has become for the Arizona senator, his likely presidential rival Barack Obama took to the Senate floor earlier Thursday to directly chastise him for not supporting the measure.
The bill has already become a political football in the presidential race and poses a major dilemma for McCain: his experience as a post-Vietnam War military officer left him with firsthand experience of the effects of an understaffed military. But his current stand puts him in direct opposition of many veteran organizations whose support will be crucial to his White House hopes.
Democrats, including Obama, see the measure as an opportunity to undermine one of the Arizona senator's greatest strengths - his credibility on military matters and his broad support among military veterans.
In his speech on the Senate floor, Obama directly criticized McCain for opposing the measure.
"I can't believe why he believes it is too generous to our veterans," Obama said of McCain's opposition to the bill. "I could not disagree with him and the president more on this issue. There are many issues that lend themselves to partisan posturing, but giving our veterans the chance to go to college should not be one of them."
McCain responded forcefully, saying in a statement the Illinois senator has not taken the time to understand the issue. McCain also said it is "offensive" that Obama made such comments on the Senate floor.
"Perhaps, if Senator Obama would take the time and trouble to understand this issue he would learn to debate an honest disagreement respectfully," he said. "But, as he always does, he prefers impugning the motives of his opponent, and exploiting a thoughtful difference of opinion to advance his own ambitions. If that is how he would behave as President, the country would regret his election."
McCain's opposition to the measure is already a hot-button issue on the campaign trail.
Last month prominent Democratic veteran and former presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clark - a supporter of Hillary Clinton - sent out an email asking "Why Won’t McCain Support Our Vets?"
The group VoteVets.org also launched a television ad earlier this week challenging McCain for opposing the bill.
The Arizona senator proposed his own version of the GI bill earlier this month that included more limited tuition breaks for military veterans. Specifically, McCain's bill proposed a sliding scale that offers increased benefits to veterans with longer lengths of service. McCain has said that lack of such a scale encourages people the leave the military sooner than they otherwise would.
That measure was killed by Senate Democrats last week.
"Most worrying to me, is that by hurting retention we will reduce the numbers of men and women who we train to become the backbone of all the services, the noncommissioned officer," McCain also said Thursday.
But McCain's arguments have not swayed the country's largest veteran organizations - including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, both of which strongly lobbied for the measure.
"This bill would encourage young men and women to join the military," National Commander Marty Conatser, the leader of American Legion, said earlier this month. "As far as retention goes, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that a simple $8,000 bonus to personnel at their first enlistment point would increase reenlistments by 2 percentage points."
"with the exception of the first blogger, do you all have military experience? If you don't – then maybe you shouldn't comment… unless you're willing to put your suggestions into practice and enlist.
Otherwise, you're all just hypocrites."
Not sure why you have to serve in the military in order to know that vets deserve the best we can give them...did you learn something different?
Jason from Wilmington: So, just because he can shoot a gun makes him suitable to run our country? He's suitable to run the military? Well, maybe he can serve in the branch of the Secretary of Defense. A true President doesn't only need strong foreign policy, he needs strong domestic policy as well... i.e. getting us out of this recession. McCain is only good for war, like Bush. Our country is better off without him. Thanks, but no Thanks!!
Good, I hope all the bill pose a problem for McCain because he does not live like the rest of us. He couldn't care less about GI bills or the price of gas. He can afford to keep 8 houses, so he's living large, while pandering to vets.
No to McCain the McSame as Bush.
This is Senator Obama. I want to bow out of the race.
Hillary is a better choice.
VOTE Clinton because thats what I am going to do.
Good, I hope all the bills pose a problem for McCain, because he does not live like the rest of us. He couldn't care less about GI bills or the price of gas. He can afford to keep 8 houses, so he's living large, while pandering to vets.
Well, it's been awhile since he had to worry about pesky things such as gas prices, GI bills, and housing. Take a nap McCain, maybe you will wake up in 2008, the nightmare that your buddy Bush created.
At least Bush is consistant. The worst president in modern history picked McSame, his man to finish the job. As if we're not already finished. This country needs to turn the corner and we can't do it with excess baggage. Enough is enough.
He is such a military leader he sends military personel out into war without appropriate vehicles to defend themselves from roadside bombs but those who survive don't deserve a higher education.
(maybe he knows that the more educated someone is the more likely they are to vote democrat – not a judgement. just another fact)
This is the same government that was paying widows 12,000. for the service of their loved ones. I'm glad that has changed, but now the GI bill has to change. I heard that 1% of the country has sent a loved one to the wars. Well let's beef up the GI bill to show them how much we care, that's the least we can do. Just ask yourself, when is the last time you took a bullet or was blasted for your country?
I also think we need to beef up the payments that we give to miners too, that's hard and dangerous work.
Thanks for your service John, but get real.
Okay, so now we know that it takes more than wearing a freakin pin, to make you patriotic. Pay up John, the men and women deserve it, and they also deserve to be discharged with honor without having to serve 4 and 5 tours.
Obama will be our next president and he will be a good one. I'm telling everyone right now, you're not going to get everything you want, as fast as you want it, but he will be on the right track.
He will definitely support the troops because America will back him up 100%.
President Obama–sounds good.
If you read McCain's statement in full he has some very valid points for not endorsing this bill. McCain has worked hard for the GI's and i think Obama is arrogant to again accuse McCain of letting them down by not endorsing the bill that 'he' wants pushed through.
This struggle between the democrats and rebublicans to get bills through is becoming a joke. They wont allow eachothers through so we are basically getting nowhere. The dems are to blame at the moment – take the Farm bill, what a joke. full of pork bellies for their own people and not 300bn going to farmers (who are making record profits right now so dont actually need this subsidy). Give the money to teachers and hospitals.....
McBush is all talk and no action!!!
Aside from wincing at the fact that apparently nobody who posts e-mails on this forum has a freaking spellchecker, I must comment on the post from AZM (May 22nd, 2008 2:40 pm ET) which states "Their (sic) making an issue out of nothing. Under the current GI bill you get 20K or more for college after one tour… full tuition while you are on active duty… and most States already give honorable discharge veterans free tuition to state funded universities… I know Illinois does from experience. Mountain out of a Mole Hill…"
DO THE MATH, AZM! And please, DO THE LOGIC.
(1) $20 K after one tour = $5K per year. Have you checked some real-world tuition rates? That might get you into the University of Lower Slobbovia.
(2) "Full tuition while on active duty" doesn't help our guys in Afghanistan a whole lot.
(3) "Most states already give honorable discharge vets...etc." is patently untrue. Hooray for Illinois but not Hooray for all of our enlightened States and territories.
(4) When it comes to questioning the integrity of our veterans to either re-up or bail out after 3 years in combat, John McCain betrays his chronic inability to think straight. What is it worth to put your life on the line 24 X 7 X 365 X 3? Is it worth $20K or a typical CEO's annual salary? Sheesh.
(5) About the potential for this bill to "deplete retention rates" - Since when has a mere 3 years under fire been a cop-out? Since when have we denigrated soldiers who decide those 3 years under fire is enough, already? Since when have we deemed his or her commitment to be worth less than, say, the amount per year that a typical Congressperson spends on lunches? Since when have those numbers been more than Dubya's oil-industry cronies spend on their shower curtains? And, by the way, since when are tour-of-duty extensions in Iraq voluntary?
NOTE: I am a Korean War vet who put in a fair amount of my allotted time on earth to help resolve that crisis, but No Complaints. I owe a great debt of gratitude to my country, because the G.I. Bill allowed a naive farm boy to end up with a graduate degree and a chance to give back a whole lot more to my country than I could otherwise have done. Thanks, America, and Shame on You, John McCain, for being so short-sighted and (to say the obvious) Extremely Unqualified to be Commander-in-Chief.
We really do need Barack Obama: He is the one and only candidate who can restore America to its right path in history.