Washington — The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly today to pass a pair of amendments that would significantly expand veterans’ tuition benefits while providing billions of dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The package now heads back to the U.S. House of Representatives, which passed the tuition-benefits measure last week but rejected the war-funds legislation. If the House agrees to the Senate’s war-spending level, the bill will go to President Bush for his veto or signature. If the House does not agree, lawmakers will have to convene a conference committee to negotiate a compromise first.
Either way, lawmakers will have to figure out how to pay for the tuition benefits. The House, which is bound by “pay as you go” rules requiring all new spending to be offset with cuts, has approved a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans. But several senators oppose that plan, so lawmakers may need to find another offset.
There are other potential hurdles as well. President Bush has threatened to veto any spending bill that exceeds his $108-billion cap. Today’s votes in the Senate were large enough to override such a veto, but it’s unclear if the House’s margin will remain large enough once war spending is added to the package.
If the bill is ultimately signed into law, veterans who have served in the military for at least three years since September 11, 2001, would receive tuition aid up to the cost of attending the most-expensive public college in their state, plus a monthly stipend for housing costs. —Kelly Field