President Bush drew great applause during his State of the Union address last month when he called on Congress to allow U.S. troops to transfer their unused education benefits to family members. "Our military families serve our nation, they inspire our nation, and tonight our nation honors them," he said.
A week later, however, when Bush submitted his $3.1-trillion federal budget to Congress, he included no funding for such an initiative, which government analysts calculate could cost $1-billion to $2-billion annually.
Bush's proposal was added to the speech late in the process, administration officials said, after the president decided that he wanted to announce a program that would favor military families. That left little time to vet the idea, develop formal cost estimates or gauge how many people might take advantage of such a program.
Still, the idea is generating bipartisan interest from members of Congress who are eager to assist military families coping with long-term absences of loved ones deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have drawn up legislation that would remove restrictions that prevent most troops from transferring education benefits to family members.
"It has some merit to it. I don't have any idea what it costs - that's been one of the problems in the past," said Rep. John M. Spratt Jr., D-S.C., chairman of the House Budget Committee. "That's not the only inconsistency or contradiction in his budget by any means. The budget overstates revenues and understates expenditures in a big way."
The GI Bill
Under the current GI Bill, service members are eligible for nearly $40,000 in education benefits, such as college tuition or employment training, after they complete three years of active duty. Nearly 70 percent of active-duty U.S. forces and veterans use at least part of these benefits, which cover three-quarters of the cost of tuition, room, board and fees for a four-year state university, according to Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, a Pentagon spokesman. The benefits cost nearly $2-billion in fiscal 2006.