May 28, 2008
Webb Chides McCain Over Bill
GI benefits boost at issue
By Christina Bellantoni, The Washington Times
Sen. Jim Webb — already being mentioned as a potential vice presidential pick for the Democrats — yesterday took a swipe at presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain for opposing his 21st Century GI Bill of Rights.
Mr. Webb, Virginia Democrat and chief author of the new bill that provides better education benefits for the nation’s military veterans, warned President Bush against vetoing the measure and said Mr. McCain should “sit down and take a look more carefully” at the bill.
“My office has reached out to his 20 times, there shouldn’t be these points of disagreement,” Mr. Webb told The Washington Times in an interview yesterday.
Mr. Webb said the issue should transcend partisanship because that’s how he and Virginia’s Republican senator, John W. Warner, first crafted the measure.
“This is something that’s above politics. I hope the president will think about that,” he said.
Mr. McCain was not there when the bill came up for a vote last week. It passed the Senate 75-22 and the House 256-166.
“I personally talked to [Mr. McCain] three times” to ask for a sit-down, but the senator was not able to meet because of his busy campaign schedule, Mr. Webb said. “I’d like to have him on board, but we’ve got 75 votes and more than half of Republicans.”
The GI measure is part of the war supplemental spending bill that Mr. Bush has threatened to veto. Mr. McCain has said he thinks the measure would harm military retention rates. He offered a competing measure that failed to reach the final voting stages in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Mr. Webb used a harsher tone against Mr. McCain yesterday in an interview on public radio’s “ Diane Rehm Show,” saying the senator from Arizona “needs to calm down a little bit and join us on it.”
Mr. Webb, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran who served as President Reagan’s secretary of the Navy, noted that his bill included as cosponsors Republicans, Democrats, two World War II veterans and two Vietnam veterans.
He said Mr. Bush should consider signing the bill and holding a bipartisan Rose Garden ceremony that would allow the president to showcase Republicans and Democrats getting along, instead of the usual partisan rancor that’s common in Washington.
Political vitriol and “gotcha” campaigning are topics Mr. Webb derided frequently in his newly released book, “A Time to Fight: Reclaiming a Fair and Just America.”
“To the American voters, I would offer this small piece of advice: Be just as shrewd and ruthless in your demands on our leaders as the political wizards who are running these campaigns are in their strategies designed to get your vote,” Mr. Webb writes.
“You won’t regret it. You will benefit from it,” Mr. Webb, an author of several books, tells voters in “A Time to Fight,” which came out this month and is ranked No. 90 in books on Amazon.com and No. 1 among political nonfiction books.
The timing of the book release coupled with the senator’s military credentials and appeal to working-class Virginians has helped fuel speculation about the possibility of landing on the Democrats’ vice-presidential short list.
He called the book “a series of think pieces” that helped him delve deeper into the problems facing the nation.
“I was trying to get beyond just the sound bites in which we pretty much have to live up here,” he said.
Mr. Webb, who unseated Republican Sen. George Allen in 2006, said Democrats can win back voters who “drifted away” over national security issues by offering solutions for economic fairness and “creative leadership.”
When asked specifically whether he had been asked to submit vetting papers to be considered for the vice-presidential spot, Mr. Webb said he had not. Should he be asked to hand over papers, after a long pause, Mr. Webb offered: “I think I would want to talk to the appropriate person on that, but I’m really not interested.”