Politics The Senate passed a bill to help sick veterans....

The Senate passed a bill to help sick veterans. 25 Republicans then took the opposite route

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others attended a news conference on Capitol Hill Thursday, the day after Senate Republicans blocked a procedural vote to advance the PACT Act.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others attended a news conference on Capitol Hill Thursday, the day after Senate Republicans blocked a procedural vote to advance the PACT Act.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Veterans and their loved ones gathered in Washington, DC on Thursday for the much-awaited celebration.

The Senate is finally poised to pass a bill that would provide health care and benefits to millions of veterans injured by exposure to toxins ranging from Agent Orange in Vietnam to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, in a surprise move, 25 Republican senators blocked the measure on Wednesday — even though they had voted in favor of it just a month earlier.

is known as PACT Act, the bill would no longer force generations of veterans to prove their illness was caused by toxic exposures in the military to get VA coverage. It was hailed as the largest expansion of care in VA history and was expected to cost $280 billion over a decade.

Activists had spent dozens of years campaigning for such an expansion—during this period They lost many of their own, including Sgt. First Class Heath Robinson, for whom the bill is named. He served near the burn pit during deployments to Kosovo and Iraq with the Ohio National Guard and died in 2020 of a rare cancer.

The bill — like many issues related to veterans’ health — had gathered deep bipartisan support and easily Passed the Senate By a vote of 84-14 in June. But a technical error required another vote, and this time, more than two dozen Republicans switched sides. The Final tally 55-42 (with three senators abstaining), falling short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

Veterans groups, family members, longtime attorney Jon Stewart and several Democratic lawmakers gathered outside the U.S. Capitol after Thursday’s vote to express their anger.

“They lived up to their oath! These guys thought they could finally breathe,” Stewart said. “You think passing the Pact Act will end their suffering? It means they don’t have to decide between their cancer drugs and their home.”

Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, accused Senate Republicans of turning their backs on veterans and their families. In what he called An unacceptable “slap in the face” to service members.

“My colleagues can make all kinds of excuses as to why they decided to change their vote for this bill, but the bottom line is that these excuses will cause veterans to suffer and die, and that’s why we’ve got this bill to pass,” he said.

Who changed their views – and why

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) is leading opposition to the bill and has voted against it both times.

In the comments On the Senate floorHe denounced it as a “fiscal gimmick” that would create $400 billion in unrelated costs by moving it from the discretionary category to the mandatory category. His office said His proposed technical fix would not lower costs for veterans or limit the expansion of care.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said That he supports the substance of the bill, but not the “accounting gimmick,” and Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Toomey of trying to block the amendment.

But those same cost concerns were not an initial concern for the more than two dozen Republicans who voted last month only to abruptly change their stance. They are: Sens. John Barrasso, Marsha Blackburn, Roy Blunt, Mike Braun, Bill Cassidy, John Cornyn, Tom Cotton, Kevin Cramer, Ted Cruz, Joni Ernst, Deb Fischer, Bill Hagerty, Josh Hawley, Cindy Hyde-Smith, Jim Inhofe. , Ron Johnson, John Kennedy, Roger Marshall, Mitch McConnell, Rob Portman, Ben Sasse, Tim Scott, Rick Scott, Dan Sullivan and Todd Young. Sens. Moreover, Sens. Steve Daines and Roger Wicker voted against the bill after not voting in June.

“Everybody has pictures on their Facebook pages, their websites with veterans,” said Heath Robinson’s mother-in-law Susan Zier, her 9-year-old granddaughter crying nearby outside the Capitol. “Well, screw it, they don’t support veterans. If you don’t vote for this bill, you don’t support veterans.”

Some of those senators are veterans themselves.

“Promises were made and promises were broken,” said Christina Keenan of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “Sens. Cotton, Ernst, Sullivan are veterans and are delaying healthcare for some of the men and women they served.”

Ernst’s office said her opposition was due to budget issues, while others did not respond to NPR’s request for comment.

Some Democratic lawmakers have offered alternative explanations for their colleagues’ sudden switch, noting that they came only after reaching their own agreement on a separate reconciliation bill.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said in a statement The “charitable explanation” is that Republicans simply changed their minds, alternatively that they “are mad that Democrats are on the verge of passing climate change legislation and have decided to take their anger out on vulnerable veterans.”

“Either way, it’s not a good day for veterans in this country,” he added.

was talking here Press conference on ThursdaySen. Kirsten Gillibrand (DN.Y.) called the situation “literally the worst form of overt politicization I’ve ever seen” and implored the public to understand that the 25 senators “have just sentenced veterans to death because they will do it. They don’t have the health care they deserve.” .”

“We had bipartisan support for this bill. And at the 11th hour, Sen. Toomey decided he wanted to rewrite the bill,” she said. “How he convinced 25 of his colleagues to change their minds, I have no idea. What the hell? How does this happen? How can you change your mind when you’re about to make a law that saves lives? It makes no sense. This is an outrage and there should be accountability.”


Susan Zier, mother-in-law of the late Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson hugs Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) during Thursday’s news conference.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images


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Drew Angerer/Getty Images


Susan Zier, mother-in-law of the late Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson hugs Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) during Thursday’s news conference.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

What veteran lawyers are saying and what happens next

Veterans groups and activists are slamming Senate Republicans for blocking the measure and have vowed to keep lobbying for it.

Many took to the platform Press conference on Thursday In order to demand accountability and further action, legislators were urged not to go for the August recess until the bill is passed.

Schumer has been said He will schedule another procedural vote on Monday.

Bob Carey of the Independence Fund, a veterans service organization, urged senators to stay overnight and on weekends, even offering to bring coffee, donuts and barbecue to help get the job done faster.

“People tell us, ‘We can pass this in September or in lame duck time,'” he said on the podium. “When you have cancer, when you’re sick, a month, two months is a lifetime, both figuratively and possibly literally. We have to get through this now.”

Tom Porter, executive vice president of government affairs at the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, noted that several of the 25 senators had issued press releases citing their previous opinions in support of veterans, only to backtrack on them.

Stewart, a former talk show host who has become a high-profile veterans attorney, lashed out at Republican senators in an angry, insulting speech.

Stewart noted at one point that the lawmakers being addressed were enjoying air conditioning indoors, ignoring the veterans — at least one of whom was wearing an oxygen tube — braving the intense heat for more than an hour to try to make his point.

He criticized Toomey’s characterization of the bill’s spending provision as a “slush fund,” saying the U.S. has a much larger fund — without railings — in support of the defense budget and military operations overseas.

“You don’t support the military,” he said. “You support the war machine.”



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