The Republican story about why 25 Republican senators switched their votes to block a bill providing care for veterans sickened by toxic burn pits is that the bill has a “budgetary trick” that would allow “an unrelated $400 billion spending spree that has nothing to do with veterans.” But that’s nonsense and a lie. Just ask the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
”The only part of the bill that changed was the necessary technical removal of a single sentence. There were no additional sections added,” according to the group. “This bill is 100% dedicated to healthcare and benefits for toxic exposed veterans. Any inferences or accusations to the contrary are untrue.”
The Republicans switched their votes—after having previously voted yes on the same bill before the removal of that single sentence—hours after the Democratic deal on climate change and health care was announced. It was a temper tantrum, and people noticed, and now Republicans are trying to act like they voted against the veterans care legislation for principled reasons.
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Say this for retiring Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey: He has consistently opposed the bill to extend care for toxic burn pit-related illnesses to veterans. He didn’t just change his mind because he didn’t like a completely unrelated thing Democrats did. Toomey has an amendment to the bill that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said could get a vote. But advocates for veterans say the amendment is unacceptable.
“What Toomey’s amendment wants to do is make sure that our sick and dying veterans have the pleasure that our 9/11 first responders at Ground Zero had of having to come back to Washington, hat in hand, riddled with cancer, and march through the halls of the Hill begging for money every year,” comedian and advocate Jon Stewart said on ABC’s This Week.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough made the same point about Toomey’s amendment, saying on CNN’s State of the Union, “the outcome of that will be rationing of care for vets, which is something I just can’t sign up for.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, constitutionally unable to see a contentious issue and not try to parlay it into attention for himself, dove into fighting with Stewart, embracing Toomey’s claims about the bill creating funding for unrelated issues.
But again: “It’s nonsense,” Stewart said in a Twitter video. “There’s nothing in the bill that is not related to veterans’ spending. … This is for veterans who suffered health effects from burn pits and other toxins. That is it!”
Stewart called on Cruz and other Republicans to “pass the bill you already had passed.” Several of the Republicans, including Cruz, claimed they want to pass it, they just can’t support this version that is a single sentence different from the one they already supported. The PACT Act “is a bill I support. It’s a bill most senators support,” Cruz said.
Republicans backed themselves into a corner here. They lashed out at the first bill they could after Democrats surprised them by reaching a deal for a significant reconciliation spending bill with Sen. Joe Manchin, and whoops, it turned out that people notice and get angry when you reverse yourself to try to block a bill you previously supported and the bill involves extending care to veterans who have cancer and respiratory illnesses as a direct result of their time on military deployments. Now Republicans are frantically trying to find a way to pretend they didn’t do the thing it’s totally obvious they did.
Schumer is bringing the bill back for a vote, giving Toomey a vote on his amendment. But vote that amendment down and then force Republicans to vote on the bill as a whole. Don’t give an inch.
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