The Senate failed to pass a procedural vote Wednesday that would have cleared the way for a voteto extend benefits to the estimated 3.5 million veterans exposed to toxic burn pits during America’s wars in and Iraq.
The bill, known as the Honor Our PAC Act,the House and Senate with bipartisan support in June, but because of a language problem in the bill, it had to go back and pass the House and Senate again. On Wednesday evening, 25 Republican senators reversed their June support and voted against a procedural vote to move the legislation forward.
Veterans have come home with a range of illnesses, including terminal cancers, but have been forced to argue to the Department of Veterans Affairs that their illnesses were related to exposure to the burns. The legislation would have removed the burden of proof from veterans and their families assuming that a number of conditions could be linked to exposure to toxic fumes from burn pits.
President Joe Biden is a strong supporter of the bill. In thecalled on Congress to take action on burn pits, which she believes may have been a factor in her son’s situation. .
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At a news conference Thursday outside the U.S. Capitol, originally scheduled in anticipation of the bill’s passage in the Senate, veterans service organizations and sponsors of the legislation decried the senators’ sudden U-turn that the last month they voted in favor of the project.
“I’ve never seen anything that happened like what happened yesterday and what compounds it and makes it that much more difficult is that, in essence, yesterday we took away the benefits of the people who have been affected by the war , which we sent to war,” Democrat. Senator Jon Tester of Montana said at the press conference.
Other speakers at the news conference, including former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, peppered Congress with expletives.
“This is an embarrassment to the Senate, to the country, to the founders and everything they profess to love. And if this is America first, then America sucks,” Stewart said.
Speakers at the press conference have advocated for easier access to health care for veterans exposed to toxic fumes from open-air burning, holes in the ground where the military would dump trash and burn it, sometimes using jet fuel as an accelerant, to dispose of it.
The press conference was supposed to be a happy affair, but instead, speakers conveyed their surprise at the failure to move forward with legislation that appeared to be a done deal in June.
US Army veteran Aleks Morosky of the Wounded Warrior Project attended the event along with representatives from other veteran service organizations.
“We make a promise to people who serve in the military that we will support them if they are injured,” Morosky said. “Passage of the PACT Act today would have finally fulfilled that promise for veterans with toxic injuries. But instead, that promise is still being broken.”
Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania voted no in June and Wednesday because of how the money is accounted for, even though he supports the purpose of the legislation.
Toomey opposes the bill because it includes language that would shift money from discretionary to mandatory spending, freeing up about $400 billion in discretionary spending for anything, including non-veterans-related programs.
Twenty-five Republicans who voted yes in June joined Toomey in voting no on Wednesday. With several senators not present for the vote due to COVID and Senator Patrick Leahy out while recovering from hip surgery, the Senate fell short of 60 votes to overcome the filibuster.
Tester said the Senate Appropriations Committee should be able to address the issues Toomey raised, but instead Toomey and other Republican senators blocked the procedural vote. Toomey said Wednesday that he and others were ready to fix the problem via a voice vote and pass the bill.
It will be difficult for the Senate to pass the bill and send it to the White House before the August recess unless Republicans can pass amendments on discretionary or mandatory spending, as there are a number of senators who isolate after testing positive for COVID. .
Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio said during Thursday’s press conference that the Senate should not go home until this bill passes and heads to the White House.
“This delay may not seem like a big deal, but number one, we don’t have the bill passed and number two, there are going to be veterans who are going to die between now and when this bill passes,” Tester said Thursday .