Counterplan. McCain and several other Republican senators drafted a lower-cost and re-enlistment-friendlier bill that would bump up the basic education benefit by almost $3,000 a year and add another $4,200 a year for soldiers who stayed in the service for at least 12 years. In response to requests from the Pentagon, the alternative bill would also allow soldiers who served at least six years to transfer some of their unused education benefits to their spouse or children.
While transferability has won widespread support, the stingier payments have attracted criticism from many of those McCain no doubt hopes will vote for him in November. McCain's proposed $14,000-a-year benefit, while covering the average tuition, fees, and room and board of a public university, is too paltry for the "crazy costs" facing many veterans hoping for a college education, says American Legion spokeswoman Ramona Joyce. Besides, Joyce notes, while the better benefits might lure 16 percent of experienced soldiers out of the service, the Congressional Budget Office also found that it would be so attractive to civilians that it would increase recruiting by 16 percent.
Some campaign analysts predict a compromise bill will likely make it into law soon. McCain is currently polling behind Obama, who is a cosponsor of the more generous bill and may be considering Webb as a vice presidential candidate. Congressional negotiators in mid-June were quietly trying to add transferability provisions to Webb's bill and make a few other tweaks. Their goal: a compromise that helps veterans and allows all sides to proclaim victory.