MILITARY CONSTRUCTION AND VETERANS AFFAIRS APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008--Continued -- (Senate - May 22, 2008)
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Mr. CARPER. Mr. President, I have come to the floor to speak about Senator Webb and Senator Hagel's new GI bill.
Mr. President, one of the smartest things Congress has ever done is pass the GI bill for World War II veterans.
Several of the Members of the Senate--including me--would not be here if it were not for the GI bill.
I went to the Ohio State University on a Navy ROTC scholarship, and when I got out, I went to graduate school at the University of Delaware on the GI bill.
As you know, the authors of this new veterans benefit proposal and two of my fellow Vietnam veterans--Senators Webb and Hagel--were also able to use the GI bill to help transition back into society after fighting in the jungles of Vietnam.
I share their belief that we need to reexamine the current GI bill with an eye toward Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
To that end, Senators Webb and Hagel have worked tirelessly to try to provide the men and women of the Armed Forces who have served sinceÐ 9/11 with the education benefits they deserve.
These two Senators have created a bill that represents the best hope of increasing veterans' education benefits. They should be commended for their hard work and their commitment to our troops.
Let me be clear: I support their proposal, and I would be proud to pass an emergency supplemental with this proposal included.
However, how we pass this bill will be very important.
This emergency supplemental provides these veterans education benefits at about $50 billion over the next 10 years.
Like the rest of this bill, there is no offset and no way to pay for these benefits.
Our colleagues in the House, however, did something quite different and, in my view, a lot better.
When the House passed this same veterans education benefit, they also included a way to pay for it.
They created a nominal tax increase of .47 percent on individuals making over $500,000 or couples making over $1 million.
By offsetting this increase in veterans' benefits, the House sent a clear message to the country and to the troops. That message was that we will honor the members of the Armed Forces by giving them the benefits they rightfully earned, but we are going to do this in a fiscally responsible way; we are not going to do this by going deeper into the red; we will exercise a little discipline; we will tighten our belts; and we are going meet our troops' sacrifice with a sacrifice of our own.
In this time of war and economic hardship, I believe the Senate needs to send a similar message to our troops: We will sacrifice here at home to give you what you deserve, because you sacrificed abroad to protect the United States.
That is why I have offered an amendment to this bill that provides the same offset as the House bill.
In order to pay for the new GI bill, my amendment calls for a small sacrifice: a nominal tax increase--less than one-half of 1 percent--on individuals making over $500,000 or couples making over $1 million.
One of the principles that I have always tried to follow is, if it is worth doing, it is paying for.
I doubt any of my colleagues would argue that providing veterans with a new GI bill is not worth doing. So then, I ask my colleagues, why is trying to pay for this benefit not worth doing?
I realize my amendment is not the most popular idea. We in the Senate like to talk a good game about the need to rein in Government spending, reduce the deficit, and to adhere to pay-as-you-go principles. But we are not so good at walking the walk.
I also know that several of my colleagues have argued that when this bill passes, we will have spent nearly $600 billion in Iraq and none of that has been paid for. Why shouldn't we, then, try to find an offset for $50 billion in education benefits for our veterans?
I understand that sentiment. I am a veteran. I benefited from the GI program. And I, too, am not happy about our situation in Iraq.
I have complained for years that our spending in Iraq lacks accountability and that we have done little to nothing to make Iraq pay its fair share.
Again, I want to unequivocally state that I will vote to pass this new GI bill--offset or not--because our troops deserve this benefit.
However, I just feel strongly that before we pass a new entitlement, we should at least make an attempt to pay for it, that we in the Senate should be willing, as the House has done, to put our money where our mouth is, to step up to the plate, and say this is worth doing and it is worth paying for.
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