WASHINGTON — Senate leaders are introducing their own GI Bill expansion legislation today, hinting at an easy political path for the once controversial measure.
The legislation was introduced Thursday morning by Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and ranking member Jon Tester, D-Mont. It mirrors legislation advanced by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee this week and is expected to easily pass on the House floor next week.
“We have worked closely with our partners in the veterans community and with our colleagues in the House to ensure this legislation makes the necessary changes to improve the G.I. Bill and helps veterans succeed in their desired career field,” Isakson said in a statement.
On Wednesday, he told Military Times that he expected no significant opposition to the expansion plan in the Senate.
The bill would remove the 15-year time limit for veterans to use their post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and provide new eligibility rules for a host of groups. Reservists mobilized under selected reserve orders, Reservists undergoing medical care and Purple Heart recipients injured early in their military careers would be able to collect the education payouts for the first time.
To pay for the expansions — an estimated cost of about $3 billion over the next decade — lawmakers will reduce housing allowances for new enrollees by one percent over five years. The move is also designed to bring those stipends in line with the military’s basic allowance for housing payouts.
Isakson and his Senate committee colleagues approved similar changes last year as part of a massive veterans omnibus measure. But veterans groups and House lawmakers rejected the package, in large part because of new accountability rules also included in that plan.
This year, the measure has been embraced by veterans advocates, who have spent recent days canvassing Capitol Hill to build support for the changes.
Tester hinted that he expects little opposition from Democrats to the plan, even with the other political fights swirling in Congress currently. The Senate measure already has 33 co-sponsors, including 16 Democrats.
“The G.I. Bill has provided generations of veterans with access to higher education after they have bravely served our country,” Tester said in a statement. “It’s been a pleasure working with my colleagues in the House and Senate, as well as veterans and advocates, to craft bipartisan legislation that will break down barriers to and strengthen education benefits for (veterans).”
No timetable has been set for when the Senate committee or full chamber may vote on the measure.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.