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Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BUYER. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I don't know since when the GI bill all of a sudden became the greatest hallmark of Democrats. It's of both parties, Mr. Chairman.

I rise to express my concerns about the way, once again, we are legislating outside of regular order, leaving undone significant fixes needed to correct known substantive and technical problems with the bill. And this all goes back to the way the GI bill came to us. It came to us as a political instrument, not properly even vetted through the House. It came as a political instrument in a highly Presidential election time.

The House committee was doing its work on modernizing the Montgomery GI bill. STEPHANIE HERSETH and JOHN BOOZMAN were doing yeoman's work, under the guidance of Chairman Filner, and they were doing everything that they were supposed to do to that bill. Sure enough, they took a bill that was drafted by one staffer who had not been properly vetted in the Senate and sent that bill over to the House without even being vetted here by the House. And then Speaker Pelosi wanted to do that, and it was all about, at that time, jamming JOHN MCCAIN.

Now I voted for that when it came here to the House floor. The reason I did that is I wanted a seat at the table. I wanted to be able to correct problems with the bill. We cited 10 or 11 of the problems that we had with the bill, all of which were ignored.

So what happened? All these inequities, all these poor drafting errors, the challenge that the administration even had with regard to the implementation of the legislation. Oh, once again we'll just do something quickly, with expediency, bypass the House process, ignore regular order, dump it on the administration, and then force them to fix it. And then, if they don't do things according to the timeline for which we foresee, then we'll just beat 'em up. This is like the worst way to legislate.

If you want to do proper governing, you don't worry about winning and losing and who's getting credit, whether a Democrat is getting credit or a Republican is getting credit. You don't think about winning and losing. Good government is about the collective ideas of all people of this House.

So, once again, what are we doing? Here comes a bill, once again, coming from the Senate to us on issues that we haven't even had a chance to pore through. Oh, let's come to the floor. Let's cheerlead. Let's embrace. And you're doing it, once again, in a lame duck session.

Then-Speaker Dennis Hastert, in 2006, when Democrats took over the House, what did Dennis Hastert do? He held a conference and he told Republicans: Respect the will of the American people. We will not legislate our agenda in a lame duck.

What are you doing? You're ignoring the will of the American people and trying to jam everything imaginable that you can before you, quote, lose power. So let's do gays in the military and let's jam everything imaginable you can. Let's do this. You're creating even more inequities in this bill than you think that you're correcting.

In order to understand my concerns: Originally the bill cost nearly $80 billion and was not paid for. We could be headed for a similar situation by passing this bill today without going through regular order.

I received a long list of technical changes from the VA that would have facilitated successful implementation. Unfortunately, the majority continues to block my efforts for these changes. In the end, the House once again will have no say in a major piece of legislation expanding veterans' benefits.

So be careful getting out there and pounding your chest thinking that you've done a lot of great things or that you've had all the input. We have not.

I am concerned about the policy change in this bill that ends living stipend payments to veterans during periods of time between semesters. You had better think about what you are about to vote on. This cut in veterans' benefits will hit veterans and their families hard, especially during the holiday season, since many schools dismiss for the winter break veterans who would receive their living stipend check during that period. I can't think of a worse idea than to cut a veteran benefit during the Christmas and holiday season. All Americans know that the month of December is already a strain on their pocketbook, and to have your paycheck cut during a devastating time period is pretty tough.

My second policy concern deals with the national cap on tuition and fees. Current law allows the VA to pay up to the maximum in-state tuition and fees for each veteran enrolled in an institution of higher learning. This means that each State has a different maximum amount of tuition and fees that the VA is required to pay. While the revised benefit of up to $17,500 a year will be a windfall for most veterans, there are veterans in several States, including Texas, New York, and New Hampshire that will see their tuition and fees payments reduced. Veterans in these States will be forced to pay for this reduction from other sources or from their own pocket.

For example, a veteran who is a junior studying at Baylor University in Texas currently receives roughly $26,000 in tuition and fee payments per year. Under this bill, that veteran would receive only $17,500 in tuition and fee payments for a difference of $8,500 per year; or, $34,000 over a 4-year time period will be cut from their benefit.

This bill should have included a provision to grandfather the current students in these high-cost States so they are not required to make up the difference in tuition, but the Members of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs did not get that change, or any other change, for that matter. By removing these interval payments and excluding a grandfather clause, the drafters of this bill were able to pay for their other enhancements of the bill. However, these enhancements are being done at the expense of some veterans to the benefit of other veterans.

It is one of those things which we are always cautious about, cutting one veteran's benefit to the benefit of some other veteran. If you went out and surveyed the average student veteran, I believe they would oppose improving their own benefit at the expense of one of their comrades.

What is even more disturbing to me is that by rushing this bill through without regular order, the majority and the veterans service organizations who support this move don't seem to have a problem with either of these issues that will hurt some of America's veterans in the name of expediency and of the apparent need to score some kind of point here in the lame duck.

I am surprised that the veterans service organizations have jumped on board in support of this bill despite the fact of its cuts of veterans benefits. I am quite certain they are very uncomfortable with me standing here on the House floor talking about the veterans service organizations' support of the cut in veterans benefits.

In a press release on Tuesday, the commander of the American Legion, Jimmie Foster, stated: ``This is great news. This bill rectifies the inequities and shortcomings of the well-intentioned but incomplete Post-9/11 GI Bill and makes it whole.''

It does not. We create even more inequities and make the matter even worse.

In testimony in July before the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America stated: ``The discussion draft of Senate 3447 will improve the new GI Bill and ensure that all student veterans have access to the most generous investment in veterans education since World War II.''

At the same hearing, the Veterans of Foreign Wars stated: ``Senator Akaka, your legislation addresses every area of concern the VFW has with improving the Post-9/11 GI Bill. We cannot say enough about the noble intent driving this legislation.''

Madam Speaker, I guess we have a few questions for the veterans who are members of these veterans service organizations. Number one, are your Representatives in Washington really standing up for you when they endorse a bill that cuts your living stipend during the holidays?

Please understand what this does. When an individual finishes their fall semester and before they start their spring semester, their benefits are cut. At some schools they might be out 5 weeks, or 3 weeks, or 4 weeks. We are going to cut their stipend during that break between semesters.

The other question is, are they really representing the view of a veteran when they endorse legislation that cuts tuition payments for some veterans by thousands of dollars while trying to benefit a veteran in some other place?

While I am retiring here at the end of this Congress, I am sure that Members of the new majority will want to hold hearings on the shortcomings in the Post-9/11 GI Bill and look for ways to improve the bill early in the next Congress. That way we can further consider the VA's and the committee's concerns, avoid unintended consequences, and do so in a bipartisan manner, and, most importantly, using regular order and making sure everyone participates in the process. That is the best way for us to govern a country.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.


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