Republicans on Wednesday blocked a bill that many saw as a two-pronged slam dunk, which aimed to extend certain benefits to veterans as a result of toxic exposure they experienced during their broadcast, leaving many veterans and their supporters shocked.
The PACT law, a bill that would have expanded the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system to include veterans whose military service included exposure to fire pits — large trenches dug to burn and dispose of sewage, medical waste, and other waste — as victims from exposure to toxins and fumes when they exhibit certain illnesses. The bill would have removed the burden of proof that veterans currently have to show to get help.
Both houses of Congress passed the bill before, with the Senate voting 84-14 in favor, but the bill was forced to a new vote after “administrative issues” were found in the text. After changes were made, it was expected to blow through Congress and be signed into law by Biden.
However, 25 Republican senators reversed their vote and blocked the bill on Wednesday.
Supporters and activists, such as former talk show host John Stewart, who had gathered at the Capitol in hopes of a party after the bill passed, were frustrated. On Thursday, Stewart and others joined lawmakers such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to vigorously call on Republicans to vote down the bill.
“They don’t need to hear it, they don’t need to see it, they don’t need to understand that these are people. Do we understand, these are not heroes, these are men and women,” Stewart said in a… Speech at the Capitol on Thursday.
With the final count in the Senate on Wednesday at 55-42 (three abstentions) the exact reason the Republicans turned around, she claim has nothing to do with the bill’s focus, but rather how the funds would be allocated and managed.
Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who led the opposition to the bill, expressed his desire to want an amendment focused on budget spending.
The Senate voted tonight to give us a chance to embed a completely unnecessary budget gimmick into the underlying text of the PACT bill. This gimmick allows for $400 billion in spending completely unrelated to veteran care. pic.twitter.com/TAuE12G8l0
— Senator Pat Toomey (@SenToomey) July 27, 2022
“There’s a mechanism created in this bill, it’s a budget gimmick, which aims to allow for a massive explosion of unrelated spending – $400 billion. This budget gimmick is so disconnected from the actual budget issue related to fire pits that it’s not even in the house bill,” Toomey said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.
Toomey told CNN he wants the bill’s funding to be handled through an annual credit process, rather than the current mandatory spending structure.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he also doesn’t support the “budgetary gimmick,” but does support the bill.
“As written, the legislation would not only help U.S. veterans as intended. It could also allow Democrats to effectively spend the same money twice and allow hundreds of billions in new, unrelated spending on the discretionary side of the federal budget,” McConnell said. Thursday. “There is no excuse why the Democratic leader would continue to block Senator Toomey’s common sense amendment. A bill that is so important and that this bipartisan party deserves to fix this accounting gimmick, and then it deserves to become law. “
The question remains as to why the more than two dozen Republicans, many of whom are veterans themselves, voted for it last month but turned around this week. According to some Democrats, the bill was blocked for political advantage.
Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), argues that Republicans also took their anger out of a separate bill on the PACTS bill. Democrats Try To Push The Inflation Reduction Act, A Historic $369 billion the next 10 years will be spent on tackling climate change, healthcare, inflation and taxes.
“The less charitable explanation is this,” Murphy said, explaining why so many Republicans turned around: “Republicans are angry that Democrats are about to pass legislation on climate change and have decided to take their anger out on vulnerable people. Because that’s the other thing that’s changed in the past three weeks Republicans thought Democrats wouldn’t be able to pass a bill asking companies to pay a little more to tackle climate change Yesterday the news came out that there is an agreement that makes it likely that a climate change bill will pass on the Senate floor, magically flipping 30 votes.”
The move, Democrats say, came in response to secondary bills expected to be voted on this week.
Democratic nominee for an open Senate seat in Missouri, Lucas Kunce, echoed the sentiment in an interview with cafemadrid. “They voted for it the first time, they’ve changed because they want to protest against a separate bill,” he said. Kunce served three trips in both Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine Officer and was deployed to Iraq, where he was stationed near a fire pit and developed post nasal drop because of his exposure.
cafemadrid’s Li Zhou also recently reported that Republicans do not want the Inflation Reduction Act passed and need unanimous support to stop it. Given that Biden praised it, the bill has a good chance of success.
What is the bill and why it matters?
Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson delivering on our pledge to tackle the Comprehensive Toxics Actalso known as the PACT Act, was introduced in June by Representative Mark Takano (D-CA), who is chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, whose purpose is to address and fund health care, research and other matters related to veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service.
The bill contains two major components: a grace period for veterans who served near burns to receive medical care, and legislation telling the VA how to handle certain diseases and cancers. Veterans would not have to prove that their illnesses are directly related to burn exposure to receive disability benefits and assistance. Currently, 70% of all disability claims related to burn exposure are rejected by the VA due to veterans’ inability to prove that their illness or cancer is related to burn exposure.
Cancers and other problems alleged to be related to fire pits can come years later, as happened for Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson after whom the bill is named. Robinson died in 2020 of a rare lung cancer that he attributed to smoke exposure while serving in Iraq in 2006 and 2007.
Kunce said he felt that many in the armed forces assumed they would not end up in such a damaging situation. “[It was] probably a stupid assumption to make, but… you have to trust the system first and foremost,” Kunce said. “Second, you don’t have a choice, do you? I mean, you’re there, there’s nothing else you could do.”
Robinson’s wife, an advocate for burn exposure victims who have been denied benefits, attended President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address earlier this year, where he expressed his support for improving benefits for veterans. as part of his so-called two-pronged “unity agenda” which focuses, among other things, on serving veterans by delivering on promises made in the areas of healthcare, mental health and homelessness.
The PACT Act Act also capitalizes on a wider conversation taking place about veterans’ rights. In June, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in favor of a veteran whose case was linked to burn exposure in Torres v. Texas Department of Public Safety. The ruling allows US Army veteran Le Roy Torres to sue the state of Texas after he lost his job due to an injury he sustained while serving.
Activists, lawmakers and veterans alike are demanding further action, with some even calling the vote criminal for criticizing Republicans for halting the bill.
“Wait a minute. You’re not going to help our veterans because we want to: reduce the cost of prescription drugs, the cost of health care, to protect the planet. Sure, you don’t agree with any of those things, but would you use that.” to vote against our veterans? It’s really immoral, almost criminal,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Another procedural vote is scheduled for Monday, but Schumer can technically put the Senate to a vote at any time. In light of the recess starting on August 5, timeliness will be key.