REPRESENTATIVES Margaret Heckler (R-Mass.), Lester Wolff (D-N.Y.) and Robert Cornell (D-Wis.) are trying to alert the members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee that the committee's leadership is about to take into its own hands what rightly belongs in the hands of the full committee and the whole Congress. The issue is whether pending legislation to correct the G1 Bill should be debated by a Senate-House conference committee, in view of the public and those veterans whose lives will be affected by the outcome of the debate, or whether it should be worked out at the staff level in informal discussions. Mrs. Heckler and at least 13 other committee members are asking - correctly, in our view - that Chairman Ray Roberts (D-Tex.) convene a special meeting of the full committee to discuss the reasons for requesting a conference with the Senate. a vote would occur in such a meeting.
The Senate has passed a bill with a number of useful proposals. These include an accelerated payment plan by which a veteran could use his benefits at a faster rate to meet high tuition costs for college and technical training. It extends benefits for two additional years to veterans whose eligibility began about a decade ago when payments were actually lower than World War 11 benefits. Thanks to an amendment by Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), it would also end the long-standing discrimination against some 800 members of the World War 11 WASPs (Womens Airforce Service Pilots) by making them eligible for veterans' benefits. The fear expressed by many observers is that Chairman Roberts and Rep. Olin Teague (D-Tex.) (the latter is the bill's floor manager) may attempt today to bring legislation to the House floor on the consent calendar. This means that not only has the House committee not participated but also there will be limited debate and no amendments on the floor.
This isn't the first time that the Roberts-Teague tandem has used this legislative maneuver to impose upon the House its particular perception of the needs of America's veterans. In September the pair engineered the passage of a bill that called for an expensive and wasteful cost-of-living G1 Bill increase. Mr. Teague might have grounds for his no-debat approach if all along he had shown a full understanding of the complex problems faced by Vietnam veterans.
He persisted in arguing, for example, to the full House that the G1 Bill "has always treated veterans on a equal basis." In fact, today's G1 Bill overpays some veterans and puts others at an unfair disadvantage. Last week, Mr. Teague said athat "under our present program, a veteran can go to virtually any state school and have money left over." According to figures from a survey made by the College Entrance Board, the high costs of many state colleges would leave veterans with significant deficits if they relied solely on their G1 Bill.
Mr. Teague's thinking has alarmed many in the Congress; Mrs. Heckler and 13 others on the committee have asked for a conference meeting. One more supporter is needed for a majority. Because the legislation involves the expenditure of close to $7 billion in the next several years, and because the futures of hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans ar involved, we think an open and full discussionof this measure is called for.