GI Bill and Retention

John McCain loves to say he has had more experience at war than Barack Obama when he explains his opposition to the legislation that would provide additional college financial aid to veterans, which passed overwhelmingly in the Senate. There’s a problem with this boosting – the author of the bill was James Webb who also served in Vietnam and also served as Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan. But then McCain also made the following claim:

McCain said he opposed Webb’s measure because it would give the same benefit to everyone regardless of how many times he or she has enlisted. He said he feared that would depress reenlistments by those wanting to attend college after only a few years in uniform. McCain said the bill he favored would have increased scholarships based on length of service.

Originally, the story we linked to had the following claim from McCain:

The most important difference between our two approaches is that Senator Webb offers veterans who served one enlistment the same benefits as those offered veterans who have re-enlisted several times. Our bill has a sliding scale that offers generous benefits to all veterans, but increases those benefits according to the veteran’s length of service. I think it is important to do that because, otherwise, we will encourage more people to leave the military after they have completed one enlistment. At a time when the United States military is fighting in two wars, and as we finally are beginning the long overdue and very urgent necessity of increasing the size of the Army and Marine Corps, one study estimates that Senator Webb’s bill will reduce retention rates by 16%.

One study? What study? Political hacks love to do this – claim some un-cited study supports their spin? Rather than pull the quote from this press story, the press should insist that McCain provide us with his supposed evidence so we can review it for ourselves.

Update: Faiz had already pointed to a CBO analysis of the Webb-Hagel proposal. Note what CBO really said about the recruitment and retention effects:

Educational benefits have been shown to raise the number of military recruits. Based on an analysis of the existing literature, CBO estimates that a 10 percent increase in educational benefits would result in an increase of about 1 percent in high-quality recruits. On that basis, CBO calculates that raising the educational benefits as proposed in S. 22 would result in a 16 percent increase in recruits. Literature on the effects of educational benefits on retention suggest that every $10,000 increase in educational benefits yields a reduction in retention of slightly more than 1 percentage point. CBO estimates that S. 22 (as modified) would more than double the present value of educational benefits for service members at the first reenlistment point — from about $40,000 to over $90,000 — implying a 16 percent decline in the reenlistment rate, from about 42 percent to about 36 percent.

By looking at only retention and ignoring recruitment, McCain is effectively telling us another one of his great big fibs. I guess the AP pulled McCain’s comment about one study – lest he be shown to be a liar again. But isn’t pointing out when politicians lie to us the job of the press?

Update II: Mark Thoma offered a few sage thoughts on this retention and recruitment issue. Mark – thanks for the comment reminding us! Maybe McCain wants more retention and less recruitment as he thinks the army like the Presidency should have elder members.