Cage Match

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This oughta be interesting:

“There are fundamental differences,” McCain told Politico. “[Webb's GI Bill] creates a new bureaucracy and new rules. His bill offers the same benefits whether you stay three years or longer. We want to have a sliding scale to increase retention. I haven’t been in Washington, but my staff there said that his has not been eager to negotiate.”

“He’s so full of it,” Webb said in response. “I have personally talked to John three times. I made a personal call to [McCain aide] Mark Salter months ago asking that they look at this.”

“Hell, no,” Webb bristled when asked if there had been an implicit message that he would attack McCain if he didn’t come on board.

Who needs implicit? The DNC is, I’m quite sure, already making the ads. It’s difficult to paint a war hero as being disloyal to the troops, but this is the best chance they’ll get; with fellow Republicans Hagel and Warner backing Webb’s bill, McCain’s insistence on the GOP version of the bill seems truculent. That said, the actual differences between the two bills illustrate how the Democrats have continued their attempts to slice off a chunk of the military vote are continuing to solidify their appeal to the military vote:* Webb’s legislation offers benefits that are open to anyone that’s served at least three months active duty since 9/11, and max out after 36 months. It’s clearly aimed at the 84 percent of the armed forces that do not see the military as a career. What’s more, Webb’s bill doesn’t distinguish between full-time soldiers and reserves — one could argue that’s only fair, since the reserves pretty much are full-time now. In any case, the beneficiaries of Webb’s bill are a huge pool of working class, non-college educated potential voters who would no doubt appreciate the efforts to get them a degree and — though Webb denies this is an intentional feature of the bill — get them out of Iraq. Critics point out that the Webb bill offers a strong incentive to not re-enlist: “enhanced post-service education benefits, particularly if enacted while troops face multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, could trigger an exodus severe enough to put the viability of the volunteer military at risk.”

The legislation supported by McCain, on the other hand, scales benefits, thus offering an incentive to stay. An alteration rather than a replacement of the current GI bill, it also continues to distinguish between reserve and active duty, and has a specific dollar limit on how much of the cost of education the government will cover (from $1500 for current active duty personnel to $2,000 per month for anyone whose served on active duty for 12 years or more). Webb’s bill would cover “cover tuition for up to four years at a level to match tuition at the most expensive in-state public school,” as well as making up the cost for any private college willing to provide a 50 percent scholarship.

McCain’s staff says they’re ready to deal, as long as the retention issue is addressed. (Interestingly, the economic downturn seems to be making some soldiers more likely to stay in, improved GI Bill or no. A Republican win-win!)

*Clumsy — and, apparently, “Republican-friendly”! — phrasing fixed. As always, thanks to our vigilant commenters!