Washington — After a relatively brief debate, the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation tonight that would significantly expand tuition benefits for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The tuition benefits are included in a domestic-spending package that was added to a larger bill that would provide $162-billion to finance the wars well into next year — sparing Congress the need to vote on war spending again before the November elections. Lawmakers approved the war money by a vote of 268 to 155, the Associated Press reported. They voted separately on the domestic-spending package, and approved it overwhelmingly, 416 to 12.
The combined legislation, which is based on a compromise reached between House members and the White House, now goes to the Senate, which is expected to vote on it next week.
Under the tuition-benefits measure, veterans who have served in the military for at least three years since September 11, 2001, could receive up to the full cost of a four-year education at a public college, plus a monthly stipend for housing and funds for books and supplies.
President Bush and other Republicans — including Sen. John McCain, the presumed Republican nominee for president — had opposed the educational provisions in previous versions of the bill because they feared that offering the benefits after three years of service would discourage service members from re-enlisting.
Under the compromise legislation, members of Congress agreed to add a provision, sought by Republicans, that would allow service members to transfer their educational benefits to their spouses and children. Service members could make such a transfer to their spouses only after having completed six years of service and committing to serving in the military for at least four more years. Benefits could be transferred to children only after a service member completed 10 years of service.
Senator McCain released a statement on Thursday indicating that he now supports the provision expanding educational benefits for veterans since it includes the language on transferring benefits. “I believe that its inclusion in this bill will help maintain retention levels in all the Services where it needs to be for the well being of the all-volunteer force and our nation,” he said.
Other domestic-spending measures in the bill include $2.6-billion in disaster aid for areas in the Midwest that are experiencing catastrophic flooding, and $5.8-billion that Mr. Bush sought for flood-control projects around New Orleans. The educational benefits for veterans are projected to cost more than $60-billion over 10 years. —Sara Hebel