October 7, 2008 – Barack Obama outscored his Republican rival, Vietnam veteran John McCain, in a report card issued by an influential, nonpartisan veterans’ group.
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA’s) Action Fund gave the Arizona senator a “D” as part of its congressional report card. Obama received a “B” from the group.
McCain is among three senators who scored a “D.” Only one senator, Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), received an “F.”
McCain – a former Navy officer and prisoner of war – and Obama, who has not served, have made military and veterans’ issues central to their campaign as they try to show voters who would be a stronger advocate for those who have fought in two wars in the last seven years.
Much of IAVA’s scoring revolves around legislation to boost education benefits for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, known as the “Post 9/11 GI Bill: Fair Education Benefits for Veterans.” The bill was the brainchild of Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and garnered wide sponsorship throughout the upper chamber.
Because of campaigning, McCain missed six votes on the issues the group rated, out of which four were the votes regarding the GI Bill.
The maximum of points for an “A+” in the Senate is 11. McCain received a total of three. IAVA gave two points to those who co-sponsored the GI Bill – its main priority for 2008.
McCain did not sponsor that bill, but sponsored a competing bill with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C). One major aspect of the McCain-sponsored bill was the ability for veterans to transfer educational credits to their spouses and children. Ultimately, the transferability option was included in Webb’s GI overhaul bill. As a result, McCain issued strong support for the bill, but was not present at the final vote.
IAVA did not credit McCain for the bill he sponsored with Graham and Burr because the group opposed it and threw its full support behind Webb’s bill.
“Sen. McCain has been endorsed by 21 past National Commanders of the American Legion, the largest veterans’ organization in America, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the largest organization of combat veterans in America,” said Lang Sias, national veterans director on McCain’s campaign. “Sen. McCain is proud of having fought hard to ensure that an extremely high priority for career service members – the freedom to transfer their education benefits to their spouse or their children – was included in the final version of the GI Bill. John McCain made the GI Bill better for military families and veterans.”
Despite being a co-sponsor of the GI Bill, Obama did not score a particularly high mark, but well above McCain. IAVA gave Obama a “B,” or a total of seven points. Obama, who like McCain has been on the campaign trail, missed four votes on issues the group rated. One of those votes was a procedural vote regarding the veterans’ education bill. Obama was present for the other three votes regarding the bill, including final passage.
Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), also scored a “B.” He missed three votes that coincided with campaigning during the primaries, when Biden himself was a presidential candidate.
“Sen. Obama has a long record of supporting our veterans and honoring the sacred trust with our veterans and military families. The fact that IAVA has recognized his unending support is a great tribute,” said Obama national security spokeswoman Wendy Morigi. “If he is fortunate enough to be elected in November, veterans can rest assured knowing that he will fight for them every day as president.”
“We think attendance is important,” said Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA executive director of the scoring. “Lawmakers have to put the money where their mouth is. You can’t support the troops if you do not vote on the key issues.”
IAVA is officially releasing its congressional report card Tuesday, the same day Obama and McCain are going into another presidential debate. Rieckhoff said the release was planned that way to make veterans’ issues part of Tuesday’s debate, because none of the candidates approached that topic in detail.
“We hope that it lets them know that people are watching and that veterans are watching,” he said in an interview. “Whoever the president is, they have a huge challenge ahead with veterans’ issues. These guys have a chance to turn the page.”
In the Senate scoring, IAVA focused on nine legislative actions: boosting of funding for veterans’ healthcare in 2007 and 2008; more money for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, known as MRAPs, for troops fighting in Iraq; expanded veterans’ benefits in 2007; 2008 legislation dealing with adaptive housing for disabled veterans, disability claims processing and education benefits for apprenticeships and on-the-job training; stopping the McCain-sponsored competing GI bill; and three votes on the Webb-sponsored GI Bill.
Among the Senate’s co-sponsors of the education benefits overhaul are several who received an “A+” for their support of veterans. Those members not only co-sponsored the landmark education bill, but also voted in favor of all the other legislation on IAVA’s agenda. Among those who received an “A+” are: Webb, Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is facing a tough reelection campaign, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate majority leader, Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), a former candidate for president, scored an “A.” So did retiring Sens. John Warner (R-Va.), who was pivotal in negotiations on the GI Bill, and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), an original co-sponsor of the bill, as well as Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.).
In the House, 249 lawmakers received an “A” or “A+” for voting on 13 bills relating to veterans issues. Many of the freshman and vulnerable Democrats have received an “A+.” Democrats, and particularly the freshmen, have made it a key point to prove that their party is strong on national security. Among those vulnerables receiving an A+ are Reps. Chris Carney (D-Pa.), Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.), Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) and Nancy Boyda (D-Kan.). Another Democratic vulnerable, Rep. Nick Lampson (Texas), received a “B.”
Several vulnerable Republican members earned top grades, but many of them have also scored “B’s.” Among them, Reps. Robin Hayes (N.C.), Christopher Shays (Conn.), Randy Kuhl (N.Y.) and Ric Keller (Fla.) stand out with an “A.” Reps. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) received a “B,” as did Reps. James Walsh (R-N.Y.) and Steve Chabot (R-Ohio).
Reps. John Campbell (R-Calif.), Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) and Chris Cannon (R-Utah) scored a “D.” Rep Ron Paul (R-Texas) scored the only “F.”
IAVA has about 105,000 members and makes no political contributions or endorsements.