A Democratic congressman on Saturday urged Republicans to "step up to the plate" to help veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., pointed to the updated GI Bill, which the House passed Thursday, as one way "a grateful nation can repay its heroes."

"President Bush and our Republican colleagues in Congress should join Democrats to make these policies the law of the land so that a grateful nation can repay its heroes," the congressman said.

The new GI Bill essentially would guarantee a full scholarship at any in-state public university, along with a monthly housing stipend, for anyone who serves in the military for at least three years. It is aimed at replicating the benefits awarded veterans of World War II and would cost $52 billion over 10 years.

To pay for it, the Democratic plan would impose a surtax on individuals with incomes above $500,000. Couples would pay the tax on income exceeding $1 million. Senators in both parties balked at the increase in tax rates, but 32 Republicans joined Democrats on the 256-166 vote in favor of the bill.

The vote on the GI Bill came amid a hectic series of votes Thursday, during which the House killed legislation to continue funding the Iraq war — money that the Senate is sure to revive in the coming week.

Becerra compared the GI Bill with the original legislation of 1944. "From President Roosevelt's promise of a New Deal for America's GIs was born the middle class," he said. "Our economy grew, and our nation, armed with a growingly educated people, became the world's powerhouse."

The new bill would have a similar effect, Becerra said. "The GI Bill for the 21st century will strengthen the middle class, and it will make our heroes from Iraq and Afghanistan the front line of our American economic recovery," he said.

"Our men and women in uniform have stepped up to the plate for the good of our country," Becerra said. "It is time we step up to the plate for the good of our veterans."