After the Senate passed a bill to provide healthcare to military veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins, the House changed the bill and returned it to the Senate. Now the bill has stalled as the Republican senators withdrew their support, saying the bill includes wasteful spending unrelated to veterans.
Multiple bills addressing military exposure to burn pits and other toxins have gone through both the Senate and the House, but different versions of the bills have resulted in delays.
The Senate previously voted 84-14 in support of a bill to provide medical care to veterans and service members exposed to burn pits. The House passed the burn pits bill earlier this month on a vote of 342-88, but House changes to a version of the bill previously passed by the Senate required the Senate to reconsider the bill.
As the version of the bill known as the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins (PACT) Act came back to the Senate, 25 Republicans who had supported a previous version of the bill instead voted against it, causing it to fail a cloture motion.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), one of the Republicans who opposed this latest burn pits bill, said the way the bill is currently written would allow for up to $400 billion over 10 years in spending that’s unrelated to helping veterans harmed by burn pits and other toxins.
“The PACT Act as written includes a budget gimmick that would allow $400 billion of current law spending to be moved from the discretionary to the mandatory spending category,” Tommey said.
“This provision is completely unnecessary to achieve the PACT Act’s stated goal of expanding health care and other benefits for veterans,” Tommey added. “However, it would enable an additional $400 billion in future discretionary spending completely unrelated to veterans.”
“By failing to remove this gimmick, Congress would effectively be using an important veterans care bill to hide a massive, unrelated spending binge,” he continued.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he’d given Toomey the chance to offer an amendment to the burn pits bill, CNN reported.
“We offered Toomey – he’s standing in the way – the ability to do an amendment at 60 votes just like the bill is a 60-vote bill,” Schumer said. “He insisted, at least in conversations with some others, saying ‘no, no, no. If you don’t put it in the bill,’ which will kill the bill, ‘I’m not going to be for it.’ I stand by the offer.”
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) said while the amendment process is less likely to guarantee the changes Republicans are seeking on the burn pits bill, they should still take the amendment vote.
“At least we would have it on record making clear that we told them this does not work in its current form,” Rounds said.
On Thursday, comedian Jon Stewart criticized Republican opposition to the burn pits bill.
“If this is America first, then America is fucked,” said Stewart, who has been a longtime proponent of the burn pits bill.
Schumer has scheduled another vote on the burn pits bill on Monday in hopes of overcoming a Republican filibuster.
Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the Republican Senate Whip predicted the burn pits bill will ultimately pass with broad Republican support, even if they don’t get the changes they want, CNN reported.