The Senate on Tuesday approved a bill to dramatically expand health care resources and disability benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits while serving overseas, eliminating the heartache that erupted less than a week ago after the original legislation was shelved by some. and anger. Support Republican senators.
Adult men cry and hug each other in the corridors of the Capitol, according to a report Bloomberg reporter. The bill, dubbed the “Fulfilling Our PACT Act,” will now be sent to President Joe Biden’s desk for signature. The final vote in the Senate was 86 to 11, surpassing the minimum 60 votes needed to pass the House.
The passage of the bill comes after days of intense campaigning by more than 60 veteran groups, many of whom defied thunderstorms and dampness in Washington to camp on the steps of the Capitol. Dozens of people poured into the Senate gallery on Tuesday night to watch the vote.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told them after the vote: “You can go home knowing the good and the great things you have done and accomplished for the United States of America.” Associated Press.
Appearing in the chamber with the veterans was comedian Jon Stewart, a longtime advocate for veterans’ rights, who sat with dozens of veterans in the Senate chamber gallery Tuesday night. When voting began, Stewart was visibly emotional, his head in his hands.
Stewart was among a number of 25 Republicans who rejected the original bill, which passed the Senate in June by a vote of 84 to 14. But it had to be sent back to the House for some minor technical changes, and when it returned to the Senate last week, more than two dozen “yes” votes suddenly changed their minds.
Outside the Capitol last Thursday, Stewart exploded: “I’m used to lies. I’m used to hypocrisy, I’m used to cowardice, I’m used to it all, but I’m not used to cruelty.”
Back in Washington on Monday, the comedian reiterated his position. “It’s the easiest outcome of a functioning society. Like, if we can’t do that, the rest of us have no chance,” he told reporters. “It’s the canary in the coal mine.”
He wasn’t the only one who didn’t speak after the bill seemed to be overwhelmed. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, also expressed his disappointment last week, calling the move “a last-minute cowardice” on Twitter. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was similarly outraged. “This is complete nonsense,” she told a news conference outside the Capitol. “…We got the votes.”
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who led the traitorous charge, called conservative votes to his side to seek amendments to the bill to provide budget provisions for a $278 billion package in apparent fears that the funds would be swept away. Democrats release about “completely unrelated programs.”
“Should I believe this and future Congresses won’t be on a spending spree? Seriously? It’s unbelievable,” Toomey said, according to NBC. “Why would they design this feature so they can spend big?”
By Tuesday afternoon, Schumer announced in the Senate that he and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell “have reached an agreement to vote tonight on the PACT Act.” Soon after, Toomey’s amendment lost by 47 votes to 48. Two other Republican amendments to the bill also failed, including one led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to limit foreign aid, failing 90-7.
The PACT bill would allow millions of sick veterans serving near burn pits used by the Afghan and Iraqi militaries to dispose of toxic waste to receive disability benefits without having to go to the trouble of proving their illnesses originated from their time overseas, the Associated Press reports .
Hundreds of thousands of sick veterans serving in Vietnam, as well as tens of thousands serving in places like Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, will also be able to claim increased disability benefits related to exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange.
The bill “should not be on hold,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) tweeted after the vote. “It’s always the right thing to do.”