Republicans block bill to help veterans exposed to toxic burning stoves

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Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a bill to help veterans exposed to toxic burning fireplaces weeks after the measure originally passed the Senate with 84 votes, angering Democrats, advocacy groups veterans and comedian Jon Stewart, a leading supporter of community aid.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, was particularly angered by the turn of events. Tester, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California), other lawmakers and Stewart joined veterans outside the Capitol on Thursday morning — who had originally come to Washington to see the bill pass — to attack the GOP.

“It makes the punch even more devastating,” Stewart said, considering the number of veterans who came to Washington hoping the bill would pass. “Their voters are dying.”

“It’s a shame,” he added.

Jon Stewart joined Democratic lawmakers in the district on July 28 after Senate Republicans blocked a new plan to help millions of veterans. (Video: The Washington Post)

The bill would significantly change how the Department of Veterans Affairs deals with veterans who have been exposed to toxic substances by requiring VA to presume that certain illnesses are related to exposure to hazardous waste incineration, mainly focused on the issue of the hotbeds of recent wars in Iraq. and Afghanistan. This would remove the burden of proof from injured veterans.

Democrats accused Republicans of voting against the bill in retaliation for a deal announced earlier by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va. ) that will allow Democrats to move forward on an economic, health and climate package without a Republican vote.

Republicans say that is not true. Rather, they point to a fiscal policy dispute between the two parties.

Tester shared his frustration and confusion with Republican lawmakers who backed the bill weeks ago but changed their stance and voted against it on Wednesday.

“I’ve been in this business for 25 years in the state legislature and here, and I’ve never seen anything happen like what happened yesterday,” he said. “And what aggravates and makes it even more difficult is that we, in essence, yesterday took benefits away from people who were affected by a war that we started.

“And we turn our backs and say, ‘No, we’re going to find an excuse to vote against our veterans,’ as we wave the flag talking about the quality of our fighters,” Tester added.

Biden calls for legislation to help sick veterans who served near burns

Pelosi said the Republicans’ actions are particularly unusual, given that aiding veterans typically attracts significant bipartisan support.

“I am very sad that 80% of Republicans in the US Senate said no to veterans yesterday,” she said Thursday. “Eighty percent. Forty votes, no.

“Veterans have waited too long, too late,” Pelosi added. “Three and a half million veterans will benefit, will have the opportunity to benefit from this legislation. Why subject them to this?

Veterans – some wearing shirts emblazoned with the American flag and others wearing face masks – held up signs. One said “Sick and dying veterans need health care,” while another held the GOP accountable with the words “Veterans’ blood is in Republican hands.”

A version of the legislation was approved by the Senate by a vote of 84 to 14 in June. He was back in the Senate on Wednesday because the House made modest changes before passing the bill by a vote of 342 to 88 about two weeks ago.

The tester took to Twitter after the vote to express his disgust at the result.

“In an eleventh-hour act of cowardice, Republicans today chose to deprive generations of toxic-exposed veterans across the country of the health care and benefits they have earned and needed. desperately need,” he tweeted. “Make no mistake, the American people are sick of these games.”

On Wednesday, the revised measure drew 55 votes in the Senate — fewer than the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. Twenty-five Republicans who previously supported versions of the bill voted against the procedural vote.

Jeremy Butler, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, called out Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) for moving to a no on Wednesday.

“After voting to support #PACTAct and fellow veterans, Senator Joni Ernst turned her back on them yesterday and voted NO,” he tweeted. “What happened Senator?” Iowa vets are still getting sick and dying from toxic exposures.

Manchin says he ‘never walked away’ as Democrats push spending deal

Republicans rejected the idea that the Democrats’ reconciliation agreement was the reason for their change.

Wednesday’s failed vote was rooted in the fiscal policy dispute first raised last month by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), who took issue with how the bill would change the accounting for about $400 billion in pre-existing veterans spending.

These previously authorized expenditures had been designated as discretionary, that is, subject to annual appropriations from Congress. But the bill, known as the PACT Act, authorizes $280 billion in new mandatory spending — that is, not subject to annual appropriations — and also converts the $400 billion in previous authorizations. from discretionary to mandatory.

This, Toomey first argued last month, amounts to a fiscal “trick” that could facilitate massive amounts of appropriate new spending: “Why would they do such a thing?” he said in a speech on the ground on June 24. “The reason is that this way you create a big gaping hole in the category of discretionary spending, which can be filled by an additional $400 billion of totally unrelated spending – who knows on what.”

Over the next several weeks, Toomey worked behind the scenes to educate fellow Republicans about the issue and lobbied to have past spending revert to the discretionary category. But Democrats wouldn’t accept an amendment, so Republicans voted en masse against advancing the bill on Wednesday to force the issue.

“The senior senator from Pennsylvania has an amendment that would ensure that we don’t just apply a financial band-aid to the problem, but actually fix the underlying accounting problem,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday ( R-Ky.) on the floor of the Senate.

Sen. John Thune (RS.D.), the leader of GOP No. 2, said Thursday that the GOP’s lopsided vote was “separate” from any negative reaction to the Manchin-Schumer deal, but he said the painful feelings might make it more difficult. to find a solution. “Obviously that doesn’t help,” he said.

After the failed vote on Wednesday, Toomey said an amendment could allow the bill to pass quickly: “My concern about this bill has nothing to do with the purpose of the bill. law,” he said. “It’s a budget gimmick intended to allow for a huge explosion in unrelated spending – $400 billion.”

But Democrats said the effort to amend the bill amounted to political games. The tester rebutted Toomey on Wednesday, saying it was odd to think Congress would ever spend that amount of money on unrelated programs through the bipartisan appropriations process.

“Make no mistake about it, the American people are tired of the games going on in this body,” he said. “We can make up all sorts of excuses about how this is going to move the money, but – let me tell you something – we decide that. If we want to move money, we will; if we don’t, we won’t. In the meantime, let us pass this bill.

Toomey also dismissed the idea that the GOP action was in response to the Manchin-Schumer deal.

“It’s so absurd and dishonest for anyone to suggest it has anything to do with BBB,” he said, referring to an earlier release known as Build Back Better. “Who knew about BBB, you know, the previous weeks when I raised this issue all this time?” I was very clearly informed about this. So someone must be willfully ignorant of the facts or dishonest to make this accusation.

The question now is whether the bill can make it to Biden’s office, and when. After their press conference Thursday, veterans’ advocates and families moved quickly, showing up at the offices of every Republican who voted to block the legislation and demanding meetings with senators and their staffs.

Tom Porter, executive vice president of government relations at IAVA, predicted that despite GOP concerns about costs, senators will bow to the political reality that “no one is going to slap you for spending money on sick veterans.

“We will win, but it won’t be as good as we had hoped,” he said.

Late Thursday, Schumer said the Senate would try again Monday night to move the bill forward.

Lisa Rein contributed to this report.

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