Jul 28, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Veterans toxic exposure bill stalls in Senate

Jon Stewart (C) during a news conference about military burn pits legislation with veterans advocacy groups and Democratic members of Congress outside the U.S. Capitol on March 29.
Comedian and activist Jon Stewart (center) speaks at a March news conference outside the U.S. Capitol about military burn pits legislation. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A procedural vote to advance a bill that would expand health care access for military veterans who became ill after being exposed to toxic burn pits failed to pass in the Senate on Wednesday.

Driving the news: Eight Republicans joined Democrats in the 55-42 vote — five short of the 60 votes required to advance the legislation. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) switched his vote from yes to no so the bill could return to the Senate, CNN notes. Three Senators didn't vote on the measure.

The big picture: Burn pits were a common way to get rid of waste at military sites during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this century, and millions of veterans have fallen ill after being exposed to toxins in the pits.

  • President Biden, who has advocated for the legislation, has said he believes that toxic exposure from burn pits contributed to the brain cancer that killed his son Beau Biden.
  • Comedian Jon Stewart and other activists have long campaigned for the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act to pass. Stewart accused Congress members in 2020 of giving veterans the "cold shoulder" with legislative inaction.

What they're saying: Senate Veterans' Affairs Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said in a statement that Republicans who blocked advancement of the measure "chose today to rob generations of toxic-exposed veterans across this country of the health care and benefits they so desperately need." He said "more veterans will suffer and die as a result."

  • Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), who voted against the motion, called the measure "a budget gimmick that’s designed to allow hundreds of billions of dollars in additional unrelated spending, having nothing to do with veterans," according to Roll Call.

Worth noting: Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said he expected PACT would "ultimately will pass in some form or another," but Republicans are hoping there "will be a negotiation to eliminate some of the mandatory spending in the bill," per Roll Call.

Meanwhile, Stewart responded to the stalled vote by tweeting that not one "of these stab vets in the back Senators should get to leave for the Summer" until this s**t is fixed. "Not one," he said.

Go deeper: House passes bill to expand care for veterans exposed to burn pits

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