Friday, May 30, 2008

Support Our Troops: Give Them the GI Bill of Rights

The future Freedom Institute must be promsing John Cornyn an endowed chair after he retires from the Senate this fall, along with a seat on the board of a few of the corporations whose water he has carried so dutifully throughout his term. That's the only reason I can come up with for Cornyn's vote against the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Act, also known colloquially as the GI Bill of Rights.

Cornyn's opponent in the November election is a member of the Texas National Guard, Lt. Col. Rick Noriega. In an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle on Monday, Noriega slammed his opponent for his hypocrisy regarding the Iraq war.

Texas needs two senators fighting for our veterans and our families. It is reprehensible that Cornyn supports keeping our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan but refuses to provide for our soldiers once they return home. As a public servant, as a soldier and as a Texan, I am ashamed of Cornyn's continued efforts to deny our troops the benefits they earned defending the United States.

Sen. Cornyn argues that financing higher education for veterans would encourage soldiers to leave the military to attend college. The notion that we should limit benefits to force our troops to stay in the military is morally repugnant. The knowledge I gained while attending college is instrumental in the work I do as a member of the Texas House of Representatives and as a lieutenant colonel in the Texas Army National Guard. I believe that higher education should be a reality for any American who wants it, and I am disheartened by Cornyn's desire to deny this valuable right to the honorable men and women of the armed forces. A stronger GI Bill will help military recruitment, attracting America's most capable and gifted volunteers to the military during a time when we need more troops than ever.

The G.I. Bill is the right thing to do. Even most Republicans realize that, and for good reason. The original GI bill was an investment in human capital that is credited with transforming the middle class.
For every dollar spent on the bill's cost, the federal government estimates that the country got $7 in return, from both increased economic productivity and taxes generated by the higher income levels of veterans who took advantage of the program.
Bush has already signaled he will veto the bill. An editorial in the NY Times sums up the hypocrisy of our president and his anti-vet supporters rather well.

Having saddled the military with a botched, unwinnable war, having squandered soldiers’ lives and failed them in so many ways, the commander in chief now resists giving the troops a chance at better futures out of uniform. He does this on the ground that the bill is too generous and may discourage re-enlistment, further weakening the military he has done so much to break.

So lavish with other people’s sacrifices, so reckless in pouring the national treasure into the sandy pit of Iraq, Mr. Bush remains as cheap as ever when it comes to helping people at home.Thankfully, the new G.I. Bill has strong bipartisan support in Congress. The House passed it by a veto-proof margin this month, and last week the Senate followed suit, approving it as part of a military financing bill for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Cornyn has indicated he will support the president's veto if it comes to that. Although he never served in the U.S. armed forces, Cornyn thinks he can inoculate himself against his hypocrisy by hiding behind the uniform of someone who did.
"The anti-war crowd is determined to use our men and women in uniform for their political advantage, even if our national security is jeopardized in the process," Cornyn campaign spokesman Kevin McLaughlin said. "The fact that Noriega would associate himself with a group that attacks John McCain [R-Ariz.], an American Hero by any standard, will not go unnoticed by Texans."
Unfortunately, McCain is on the wrong side of this issue as well, refusing to return from the campaign trail to even vote on the bill. As to Cornyn and McCain's concern that the bill will hurt retention by encouraging soldiers to leave military service, they fail to mention the same study found that the additional benefits would increase recruitment by an equal percentage, so the net effect would be neutral.

Texas deserves a senator for whom supporting the troops is not just a platitude; someone willing to fight for the opportunities of all Americans, not just those with the money to buy access and influence. Texans deserve Rick Noriega.

[Disclaimer: I volunteer my time and energy to elect Democrats to office in Denton County and throughout Texas. Join us. ]

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