While it's no surprise to 6th District residents that Washington is broken, one thing Congress and the nation can typically agree on is the importance of ensuring our military veterans receive the benefits they duly deserve.
Unfortunately, the divisive politics that gridlocks Washington have once again got in the way of legislation to honor our veterans and strengthen our nation's workforce. Specifically, the bipartisan Post-911 Veterans Educational Assistance Act has been thrown into this political minefield.
In what is better known as the "21st Century G.I. Bill," Congress came together to craft a bill, under the leadership of Democrat Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, to expand educational benefits for the men and women of our Armed Forces who have served our nation since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. I was proud to advocate for this legislation by becoming an original cosponsor of the House version of this bill, along with 300 of my fellow colleagues.
This piece of legislation closely resembles the educational benefits provided to veterans returning from World War II. More than 7.8 million veterans took advantage of these benefits during the 1940s and 50s, and its impact on the American economy was profound. For every dollar invested, seven dollars was generated. This is a perfect example of sound policy that was written with an understanding of how judicious use of the tax dollar can benefit our economy.
Unfortunately, once the bill came to the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi saw the new G.I. Bill as an opportunity to spend more on the special interests that propelled her to power. Instead of offering this legislation as a standalone bill, Speaker Pelosi added more than $23 billion in non-defense spending projects paid for by a $51.6 billion tax increase on small business owners.
Not only did the majority hijack a veteran benefits bill to advance their own interests, they now accuse those of us who voted against the irresponsible version of the bill of not supporting the troops - despite the fact that the majority of Congress had already cosponsored the clean version of the bill.
Likeminded Democrats, including Illinois Representative Melissa Bean, a Democrat from Schaumberg, joined me in voting against this bill. Representing 99 percent of all businesses in the nation, small businesses are the backbone of the American economy, responsible for creating more than 65 percent of all new jobs.
While this majority has been quick to lash out at Republicans for voting against their pork laden bill, Speaker Pelosi has been strangely silent in her criticism of Representative Bean and other Democrats who voted for fiscal responsibility.
That being said, fiscal responsibility in policy decisions is something that Republicans and Democrats alike have abandoned in recent years. This lack of discipline was part of what cost the GOP control of Congress in 2006.
Placing politics over policy have earned Congress the lowest approval rating in generations. However, when we do work together as a nation, and as a Congress, we can support our returning heroes in a responsible way that honors their service and sacrifice. Veterans, of all people, do not deserve to be used as a pawn in the game of politics.
It is my hope that I, along with my colleagues, will be able to urge the majority to put aside politics, and pass a well-deserved, clean, G.I. Bill.