Once again, Congress and President Bush have turned legislation intended to fund American troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan into a Christmas tree for domestic spending. Because the troop funding bill (H.R. 2642, now Public Law 110-252) was an "emergency" bill-and therefore exempt from budget constraints-lawmakers added nearly $100 billion in domestic spending without offsetting the cost by a single dollar.
Most domestic spending additions are one-time expenditures. Yet Congress dealt another blow to budgetary integrity and fiscal responsibility by creating a permanent new entitlement in this emergency war funding bill. This new expenditure, an education entitlement for veterans, is expected to cost $52 billion over the next decade, with costs continuing to increase thereafter. Despite any merits such a proposal might contain, an emergency war funding bill was the wrong place to create one of the largest new entitlements in recent history.
The New Entitlement. The Montgomery GI Bill currently provides enlisted service members who have two years of active duty with up to $1,101 in monthly student aid for up to 36 academic months (the equivalent of eight semesters). In addition to increasing those benefit levels, the Iraq war spending bill created a new program for those serving at least 36 months in the military post-9/11. Such veterans will receive 36 academic months of aid sufficient to afford full tuition (at most colleges), fees, books, and housing. Those serving fewer than 36 months will receive a prorated benefit.
Why This Entitlement Should Not Be Part of the Emergency Bill. The only reason for Congress to declare this new veterans' entitlement an "emergency" was to evade the budget rules requiring that new entitlements be paid for. Congress' action was detrimental to veterans' as well as taxpayers for several reasons:
The dangers of failing to thoroughly examine legislation are not merely theoretical.The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that these entitlements may drop the re-enlistment rate by 16 percent as service men and women leave the military to take advantage of these benefits. Re-enlistment bonuses can help to offset those effects. How Congress addresses this issue will significantly impact America's defense capabilities, and subsequently legislators should have crafted this legislation more carefully than they did.
Instead of addressing those spending challenges, Congress has inexplicably decided to create another new entitlement with no offsets whatsoever. The costs of such reckless legislating will be dumped into the laps of the next generation along side the coming Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid debt.
Responsible Funding of Veterans' Educational Assistance. Veterans' educational assistance is a worthier use of tax dollars than many other federal programs. That is why lawmakers should have offset its cost by reducing lower-priority spending, such as:
No Profile in Courage. Lawmakers were sent to Washington to make difficult but necessary choices. Attaching a major new entitlement to a war funding bill-without significant oversight from the relevant congressional committees-was not fair to the veterans who will depend on this program. By abandoning such oversight in order to win the "emergency" designation, Congress has passed the costs of this new entitlement onto future generations of taxpayers. Using veterans' educational assistance funding to circumvent self-imposed fiscal restraints while burdening future generations with debt was not exactly a profile in courage.
Brian M. Riedl is Grover M. Hermann Fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
 The Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Resolution, S. Con. Res. 21, 110th Cong., Section 204 (a)(5).
 Congressional Budget Office, "S. 22, Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008," letter to Senator Judd Gregg, May 8, 2008, at http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/92xx/doc9212/s22.pdf (June 11, 2008).
 Brian M. Riedl, "The Democratic Congress's 2008 Budget: A Tax and Spending Spree," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2081, October 30, 2007 at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Budget/bg2081.cfm.