The US Senate passed the Honoring Our PACT Act on Tuesday overnight in an 86-11 vote, expanding health care for 3.5 million American veterans who were exposed to toxic burning fireplaces after 9/11.
The legislation also covers health benefits for other veterans exposed to chemicals, such as Agent Orange in the Vietnam War, during their military service.
The measure was sent to the White House after Republicans blocked the legislation last week opposing the inclusion of $400 billion in mandatory spending that would not be subject to an annual appropriations review – unlike the customary discretionary spending for federal agencies and programs that Congress reviews. and approves annually.
Republicans argue that under the PACT Act, Democrats could theoretically spend $40 billion a year over 10 years on other needs unrelated to veterans care, because authorizing $400 billion on a decade is considered mandatory.
But supporters of the bill noted that Republicans had previously supported the measure’s mandatory spending. Democrats argued the GOP was changing position because it was unhappy with a separate deal made by the senses. Charles Schumer (DN.Y.) and Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) on climate change, health care and taxes.
The GOP came under enormous pressure to move on from veterans who were camped on the steps of the United States Capitol. These veterans had a top ally in former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart.
Before the vote on final passage, the Senate accepted three cost-control amendments to the bill, leading a number of Republicans to support it.
But those 11 GOP senators still voted against the package in the final passage. The Hill reached out to the 11.
Senator Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania)
Toomey led the opposition effort to the bill last week when he complained about mandatory spending, which he called a “budget trick” on the floor of the Senate.
“My concern about this bill has nothing to do with the intent of the bill,” Toomey said. “This budget stuff is so irrelevant to the real issue for veterans that has to do with fireplaces, that it’s not even in the House version of this bill.”
Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.)
Shortly before the Senate vote on Tuesday, Paul railed against the bill and said it would put the economy at risk.
“This bill would cost hundreds of billions of dollars at a time when the national debt is soaring to more than $30 trillion and inflation is at a 40-year high,” Paul told the Senate.
Sen. Mike Crapo (Idaho)
Crapo told The Hill that he co-sponsored four other Senate bills that would address veterans exposed to toxic combustion fireplaces and related injuries.
In a statement, the senator said he was “committed to ensuring that health and disability benefits are provided to veterans exposed to toxic substances during their periods of service.”
He ultimately did not support the PACT Act as he said it allowed for a “slush fund” in mandatory spending.
“I have a strong record of supporting veterans to ensure they have access to high-quality health care, opportunities to thrive after transitioning from the military, and protecting their Second Amendment rights” , said Crapo.
“I, too, remain committed to Idaho veterans impacted by burning fireplaces and toxic exposure and will continue to support bipartisan legislation that can withstand the tax standards necessary to ensure solvency and endurance, not additional slush fund spending placed on the American people,” he added. .
Senator Thom Tillis (NC)
tillis told the Raleigh News Observer he had doubts about the ability of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to manage backlogs and wait times for veterans seeking care.
“Congress has an obligation to ensure that the VA can effectively and efficiently implement any comprehensive toxic exposure legislation and, unfortunately, I continue to have reservations about the Department’s ability to do so. do,” he told the outlet.
The PACT Act will help veterans who have been exposed to toxic chemicals at North Carolina military bases Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River.
Senator James Lankford (Oklahoma)
In a Facebook live video Tuesday nightLankford said the legislation “limits access to outside doctors,” creating roadblocks for veterans seeking treatment in places other than the VA.
“A lot of people want to go see a family doctor or a doctor closer to them,” Lankford said. “With many parts of rural Oklahoma, people have to travel a very long way to get to a VA hospital and I’m very passionate about getting them to the one that’s closest to them.”
And like Tillis, the senator raised additional concerns about wait times, suggesting the bill increases wait times at the VA and does not address long backlogs for veterans seeking care.
Senator Mike Lee (Utah)
The Hill has requested comment from Lee’s office.
His. Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.)
On Tuesday evening, Lummis said 168,000 vets were currently waiting for VA services, which she called “unacceptable.”
“If we pass the PACT law, as is, that number will increase to over a million,” she tweetedproposing another bill from his colleague, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), that would allow veterans to seek treatment at facilities in their community.
Senator James Risch (Idaho)
A spokesman for Risch’s office said the senator was a strong supporter of veterans but did not support the $400 billion in mandatory spending.
“Unfortunately, Democrats have written in a $400 billion hole in the discretionary budget that they can fill with spending that is completely unrelated to veterans,” the spokesperson said. “It is inappropriate to use a veterans bill as a back door to usher in huge sums of unrelated spending.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah)
Romney’s office pointed to remarks the senator made in June about the legislation, when he raised concerns about adding “hundreds of billions of dollars to the national debt” and implementing a “dramatic extension of eligibility requirements that are not necessarily service-related disabilities”. .”
“We absolutely need to help veterans who have contracted illnesses as a direct result of toxic exposure while serving. However, the scope and cost of this bill is astronomical and unwarranted,” he said, according to remarks passed to The Hill.
“We have a collective responsibility to veterans who have served our country, and I would support legislation that better targets eligibility requirements for people with disabilities based on scientific evidence and research,” the senator added.
Senator Richard Shelby (Alabama)
Shelby tweeted Tuesday night that he “remains a strong advocate for our veterans” but could not support the $400 billion mandatory spending provision.
“The PACT Act would reclassify nearly $400 billion in VA funding, allowing Democrats to spend that on their Liberal wish list instead,” he wrote. “I want to support the PACT Act, but this budget gimmick needs to be fixed.”
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (Alabama)
In a Twitter feed Tuesday evening, Tuberville said he was concerned about “the many provisions of the bill that need to be changed to ensure the VA can comply with this law.”
“I want to know that the VA can implement this comprehensive bill fairly and effectively, and at this time I am not convinced that it can,” the senator wrote.