Troop-Supporting 101

A campaign blog.
May 12 2008 6:20 PM

Troop-Supporting 101

John McCain has some electoral vulnerabilities, but troop-supporting usually is not one of them. It’s a little baffling, then, that he hasn’t signed on to Sen. Jim Webb’s G.I. bill to increase educational benefits for servicemen and veterans. Republicans John Warner and Chuck Hagel are on board. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have signed on, too. And today Obama attacked McCain in West Virginia for failing to support it. Why would McCain open himself up to charges that he doesn’t care about putting troops through school?

McCain says the problem is "incentives." He complains that Webb’s bill gives the same benefits to servicemen whether they serve three years or 20 years, with no added benefits for those who serve longer. Instead, he has proposed legislation that would raise benefits over a longer period of time.


That would be a valid excuse, if McCain’s bill provided as much as Webb’s bill did from the start. After all, there’s nothing wrong with giving more to people who serve longer. Incentives to stick around are only a problem if they come at the expense of soldiers who don’t make military service their career.

But, looking at the numbers, McCain’s bill appears to pay a lot less from the get-go. It gives active-duty members education benefits of $1,500 a month, which shakes out to $13,500 for a nine-month school year. That’s better than the current G.I. bill, which provides only $6,000 a year. But Webb’s version goes further, providing the maximum tuition at your state’s public university system—roughly $14,000 in many states—plus $1,000 a month to cover living costs. All of that totals more than $20,000.

But wait! McCain’s bill raises benefits down the road, right? Yes, but that’s only if you stick around for 12 years of service . And even then, benefits only get raised up to $2,000 a month, or $18,000 over nine months. That’s less than Webb’s bill gives to troops who have served three years.

There are other points of contention. For one thing, Webb’s bill isn’t cheap—estimates put its price tag anywhere from $2.5 billion to $4 billion a year. But that’s not McCain’s complaint. (You can’t really complain about supporting troops too much .) He’s concerned it will make soldiers leave the military before they otherwise would. He might have a point if his bill provided as much as Webb’s for starting servicemen. But that’s not the case.

It’s easy to see how this stance could become a general-election liability. McCain’s background makes him nearly untouchable on military issues, but refusing to give troops benefits could become a gap in the armor. You can see the attack ads now: John McCain says he’s willing to stay in Iraq for 100 years. So why doesn’t he want our soldiers to go to school?? That may be unfair, but the core point stands: If McCain is going to tether himself to the war, he should be willing to pay for it.



Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.


Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
Dear Prudence
Sept. 29 2014 3:10 PM The Lonely Teetotaler Prudie counsels a letter writer who doesn’t drink alcohol—and is constantly harassed by others for it.
  Double X
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
Future Tense
Sept. 29 2014 11:56 PM Innovation Starvation, the Next Generation Humankind has lots of great ideas for the future. We need people to carry them out.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 29 2014 11:32 PM The Daydream Disorder Is sluggish cognitive tempo a disease or disease mongering?
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.