Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this column incorrectly identified the writer as Michael Abramowitz. This was written by Dan Eggen. This version has been corrected.

Education-Benefits Plan Could Face Math Test

Laura Bush's news conference about Burma last week appears to have been the first time a first lady has addressed the media in the White House briefing room.
Laura Bush's news conference about Burma last week appears to have been the first time a first lady has addressed the media in the White House briefing room. (By Ron Edmonds -- Associated Press)

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By Dan Eggen
Monday, May 12, 2008

Three months after President Bush raised the idea of allowing U.S. troops to transfer education benefits to relatives, the White House has finally sent a formal proposal to Capitol Hill.

Whether it has a chance of passing is another matter.

Bush drew big applause during his State of the Union address in January when he proposed allowing the transfer of unused education benefits. The announcement had come as a surprise to major veterans groups and garnered criticism from Democrats because the administration did not have an actual proposal or a plan to pay for it.

Last Tuesday, during an event commemorating Military Spouses Day, Bush announced that he had sent legislation to Capitol Hill that would allow soldiers to transfer unused education benefits to spouses or children. The proposal also includes plans for expanded access to child care and job training for military spouses.

The White House has not provided a cost estimate for the education initiative, saying only that the program would be paid for within the existing Defense Department budget. Government analysts had previously calculated that such a program could cost $1 billion to $2 billion a year. The White House says the child-care and job-training provisions would cost much less, about $1.5 billion through 2014.

Congress is already wrangling over a GI Bill expansion proposed by Sens. James Webb (D-Va.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) that does not include the benefits-transfer idea. The bill has attracted strong support from veterans groups but is opposed by many Republicans, and some conservative Democrats, as too costly.

Webb wants to focus on expanding the education benefits available to soldiers first, spokeswoman Jessica Smith said. Smith also questioned why the Bush administration has not taken better advantage of a 2001 law that allows some education transfers.

Patrick Campbell, legislative director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which strongly supports the Webb-Hagel bill, said allowing family transfers of education benefits is "a great idea" but is not one of his group's top goals.

"All the proposals are good proposals; they're just not the priorities of most veterans groups right now," Campbell said.

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said that several pending GOP bills in Congress include provisions for transferring education benefits that are similar to the plan proposed by the administration. And Bush, during the ceremony honoring the sacrifices of military spouses, indicated he had high hopes for the idea.

"This legislation is moving," Bush said. "I hope to be able to sign it as quickly as possible."

One Anniversary, Two Calendars

President Bush will arrive in the Middle East on Wednesday to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel -- six days after Israelis' own celebration.


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