A national band of brothers and sisters

By July 4 Democrats should propose, Congress should pass, and the president should sign a bill to initiate a Soldier Bond that would raise $500 billion over 20 years for programs that serve troops, vets and their families.

The bill would require the president to send to Congress, within 60 days, specific options to implement the bond, with input from veterans’ advocacy and service groups and families of active duty troops today.

The Soldier Bond would be modeled after the war bond of the 1940s and structured like the Savings Bond. It would finance support for wounded troops, homeless veterans, healthcare, emergency financial assistance, military health research and programs supported by Americans of all viewpoints.

With so many Americans not approving of the president or the Democratic Congress, the Soldier Bond would appeal to well over 100 million Americans who are either in military communities or represent men and women of all faiths.
Political leaders who support this, K Street firms that back it, and corporate America would reap huge nonpartisan goodwill from a grateful nation.

This Democratic initiative, pursued with bipartisan spirit, would fully renew the long tradition of the Democratic Party as the voice of veterans, troops and national unity. It would aim for the gold standard of support for veterans and military families embodied by the “we are in this together” spirit of FDR and the “ask not” spirit of JFK.

Supporters and opponents of the Iraq policy can agree with experts that various scandals and shortfalls in our treatment of troops and vets are unconscionable and unacceptable.

With high disapproval toward the president and Democratic Congress, the self-praising talking points from both parties are viewed as irritating and not credible. We can do better. Here’s how:

First, state the mission with a spirit of integrity, patriotism and unity. Second, understand the American people consider it an honor, not a burden, to be called to service in uniform and at home.

Lets agree: The words “scandal of wounded troops” should never be spoken in America.

It’s wrong to have so many veterans below the poverty line, to have homeless heroes go hungry, to have disabled vets punished by bureaucracy and neglect.

It’s wrong to have vets centers dramatically overloaded and under-funded, to sell short treatment and research for post-traumatic stress disorder, and to have the husbands and wives of heroes financially desperate and badgered by debt collectors, repossessors and legal loan sharks.

Everywhere, Americans ask: How can I help?

A Soldier Bond would be a conservative investment that Americans would sign up in droves to support. It would meet urgent and long-term needs for those who serve, and their families, and bring out the best of America.

During the 60 days that the president would prepare the options, congressional committees could hold hearings, and perhaps the Reagan and Kennedy presidential libraries could be asked to collaborate and give voice to the wonderful groups serving those who serve.

There are many great programs and ideas from organizations involving Afghanistan and Iraq vets, Vietnam and Gulf War vets, the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, purpleheart.org, disabled and homeless vets, faith-based supporters and countless others.

A Soldier Bond is the alternative to imposing the burden on our young, who otherwise will face the choice of massive tax increases to pay for these obligations, or leaving them unmet as we have, so far.

A Soldier Bond is only the beginning. We must work together to set right the Iraq war, defend America from the next Sept. 11, and give our decisive answer to Osama bin Laden.

Let’s again become a national band of brothers and sisters, show that we are in this together and that tomorrow can be better than today.

We can honor our heritage from previous generations, meet the obligations of our current generation, and leave a proud legacy to future generations.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then-chief deputy whip of the House. He is a contributing editor to Fighting Dems News Service. He can be reached at brentbbi@webtv.net and read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog.