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Lawmakersv seek ways to pay for GI Bill upgrades

  • Monday, September 20, 2010 12:11
    Message # 421585
    Deleted user

    Lawmakers seek ways to pay for GI Bill upgrades

    By Rick Maze - Staff writer
    Posted : Saturday Sep 18, 2010 11:53:10 EDT

    Improvements in the Post-9/11 GI Bill may have to be put off until next year if lawmakers cannot find a way to pay for changes, a key House lawmaker has warned.

    Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., who chairs the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s economic opportunity panel that has jurisdiction over veterans education benefits, has signed on as a cosponsor of HR 5933, a bill that would make a number of changes in the program, including extending monthly living stipends to distance learning students, making active-duty members eligible for book allowances and expanding the program to cover vocational training.

    Herseth Sandlin said she will try to help get the bill passed quickly because proposed changes will make the year-old education program fairer to beneficiaries and easier to adminster for the Veterans Affairs Department.

    She warned, however, that passage may not happen this year because the mood in Congress has changed since 2009 when lawmakers created the new benefit with little thought about the long-term cost by adding it to a war supplemental funding bill.

    Off-budget war funding bills are gone as lawmakers have demanded that war costs be wrapped into the regular defense budget so they can get more scrutiny, and Herseth Sandlin said lawmakers are no longer quick to approve benefits without paying for them.

    A key question will be the price tag that the Congressional Budget Office attaches to HR 5933, because Congress is unlikely to approve the bill unless all of those costs are offset, she said. A cost estimate could be ready in a few weeks.

    The bill has some provisions that would reduce benefits to offset improvements, such as denying future cost-of-living increases in the older Montgomery GI Bill program and another eliminating a loophole that allows active-duty people to combine GI Bill benefits and tuition assistance to fully cover the cost of courses taken at private schools where tuition and fees exceed caps that apply to other student veterans.

    Tim Embree of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said the offsets should go a long way toward covering the costs of improvements, but Herseth Sandlin said she is less sure. “CBO gives us headaches, and we are going to try to work through that issue,” she said.

    She promised veterans organizations that appeared before her subcommittee to talk about changes that she is “committed to working with you” on the issue, but added that if offsets cannot be found, the legislation might be delayed until next year so that she and other supporters could push to have funding included in the 2012 veterans budget specifically to cover the changes.

    The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, which on Aug. 1 gave tentative approval to its own version of what veterans groups are calling the GI Bill 2.0, also is wrestling with the question of how to pay for the benefits. That is part of the reason why the bill is still being held by the committee and has not been brought to the Senate floor for a vote.

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