Republicans turn heads as Senate passes Burn Pits legislation


The Senate on Tuesday gave final approval to legislation designed to help veterans battling illnesses they believe are linked to toxins, particularly those who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

On an 86-11 roll call, Senate Republicans voted a political capitulation, a week after they prevented the popular legislation from being considered a political fiasco as Democrats won a party-line deal on an unrelated massive domestic policy bill. Will consider this weekend.

Republicans have spent days trying to argue that Wednesday’s blocking of the PACT Act was tied to a technical dispute over what portion of the federal budget would fund a $280 billion new appropriation for veterans health care programs.

But 25 Republicans who had recently supported the same bill reversed their votes last Wednesday, with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.) less than an hour after announcing his contract. on ambitious legislation unrelated to the PACT Act.

Republicans absorbed a series of political blows, led by comedian Jon Stewart and several prominent veterans groups, and by lunchtime Tuesday, many were ready to vote to resolve the matter and send the legislation quickly to President Biden’s desk.

“He beat the living daylights out of them,” Schumer said Wednesday in a celebratory visit to a couple of dozen veterans who have set a vigil on the Capitol’s North Lawn since last week’s failed referendum.

Democratic leaders allowed Stewart and dozens of veterans, their families and other supporters into the chamber’s public gallery for a final round of votes — something that has happened less than a handful of times since the global pandemic began in March 2020. Allow the public into the House and Senate galleries.

In the end, 37 Republicans joined 49 Democrats in voting for the legislation, which would have forced the Department of Veterans Affairs to consider certain illnesses from burning hazardous waste. In Iraq and Afghanistan.

This removes the burden of proof from injured soldiers.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) missed the vote due to recent hip replacement surgery.

In the closing moments of the debate, activists became emotional. Stewart, who took up the cause following a similar effort to help first responders suffering lingering effects from the 9/11 site, put her head in her right hand and began to cry as the roll call began. The crowd lit up with a brief cheer as the vase fell, quickly admonished by officials for breaking the decorum that required silence.

Asked to explain the GOP reversal, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not offer a broad explanation and acknowledged that the legislation would pass with broad support.

“These things happen all the time in the legislative process,” McConnell said at his weekly news conference, conceding defeat. “Ultimately I think the veterans service organizations will be happy with the end result.”

Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.), credited veterans groups and Stewart for taking what was previously a relatively obscure health care issue and turning it into a national cause.

“He was the one who really did it, and that’s what elevated it,” Tester said as he joined Schumer in an impromptu celebration outside the Capitol.

Biden also emphasized the issue in his March State of the Union address, followed by a trip to Texas communities next week to take its importance to the community.

“We follow the science in every case, but we’re not going to force veterans who have been crippled for decades,” Biden said. March during a visit to Texas.

In his remarks, the president noted that his son Beau served as a judge advocate general in the Delaware Army National Guard in and around Baghdad, where open-air waste was incinerated.

The state’s attorney general, Beau Biden, died of brain cancer in 2015, although no diagnoses have linked the cancer to Iraq or other overseas postings.

“While we may never fully repay the enormous debt we owe to those in uniform, today, the United States Congress has taken an important step toward fulfilling this sacred duty,” the president said in a statement after Tuesday’s vote. “Congress has delivered a decisive and bipartisan victory for America’s soldiers.”

In a sign of his own devotion to the issue, the president planned to surprise veterans holding vigils outside the Capitol over the weekend with a pizza delivery, but he tested positive for the coronavirus again and resumed his quarantine.

Instead, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denise McDonough arrived with pizza.

Experts are often uncertain about a direct link between specific cancers or diseases and burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the military often burned large amounts of waste, including plastics, batteries or vehicle parts — which released dangerous chemicals into the air.

Veterans must prove a direct link between their cancer and burn cavity chemicals, which can sometimes be difficult to meet, especially if the condition doesn’t develop until years after deployment. Studies show that Veterans Affairs denies most claims.

“You could talk to any of these people and they’d say we wouldn’t be here,” Tester said.

Schumer took a similar approach, and the legislation eventually passed.

“All’s well that ends well.”

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