Republicans in the Senate are looking for ways to quietly end the deadlock over legislation to help veterans exposed to toxins that have become a major distraction and put them on the defensive. important time.
Activists representing veterans were outraged after GOP lawmakers blocked a $278 billion bill aimed at helping veterans who became ill from their toxic exposure. They have held a sit-in rally on the steps of the Capitol since Thursday to draw attention to the Republican opposition.
The bill was initially passed by the Senate in June by 84-14 votes, and Republican senators are struggling to explain why they are keeping the same bill on the Senate floor. institute.
Jon Stewart, a former “Daily Show” host who has been active for many years as an activist for veterans and first responders groups, has been relentless in his lamentation of the GOP’s stance. themselves, attracting media attention on the issue.
Stewart took delight in lashing out at conservative Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in a recent video in which he responded point-by-point to Cruz’s opposition to the bill. He described Cruz’s arguments as “inaccurate, untrue, bullshit” and concluded the video with Cruz punching a colleague after the law failed last Thursday.
Republicans admit the deadlock is not a good look for them three months before a key election and that they are bearing most of the blame for the stalled bill.
When asked if Republicans were to blame, Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a veteran, replied: “Yes, and that’s not fair.”
Now Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), are anticipating the bill to pass this week, even if they are unable to amend it, signaling that they are ready to continue the politically damaging war.
The GOP senators stressed that they support the bill’s nature, but oppose what they say is an accounting gimmick that will likely increase future budget deficits.
Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont.), home to one of the highest numbers of veterans per 100,000 residents, said strong Republican support for the bill was evident through bipartisan vote for adoption in June.
“I want to see the PACT Act passed,” Daines said of our Treaty Honor Act.
He said he and other Republicans agreed to support Senator Pat Toomey’s (R-Pa.) opposition to the bill because “Sen. Toomey raised a legitimate question about how funding works.”
Toomey, a leading Republican voice on financial issues, said the bill designates $400 billion that the Department of Veterans Affairs is expected to spend over the next decade to help veterans who are injured. Toxic exposure is a mandatory expense. Traditionally, this spending is classified as discretionary, which means it needs to match the annual discretionary spending limit.
Toomey, who is not re-elected this year because he is retiring from the Senate, argued that switching to the mandatory side of the ledger would give Congress the flexibility to accommodate other spending programs under the budget cap. annual book.
“This is the problem with this bill, this is a budget gimmick, this is what is outrageous,” Toomey said on the exchange recently. “It allows for the transfer of spending from discretionary to obligatory spending.
“By moving this kind of massive, $400 billion spending, out of the discretionary category and into the imperative, you create this massive hole in [budget] cap,” he added. “Guess what happened to that big hole? It’s filled with spending for those who know what. ”
The problem for Senate Republicans, however, is that it’s not easy to explain to the American public why this is a deal-breaker.
It’s complicated by the fact that 34 Republicans voted for the bill six weeks ago, even though that version of the bill also designates funding for new veterans as mandatory spending.
Stewart in a video reply to Cruz and other Senate GOP critics stated, “There’s no budget trick and it’s always been a must and when they vote in the Senate June 16, they really do. received 84 votes.”
Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough warned in an interview with CNN over the weekend that Toomey’s amendment could lead to “distribution of care to veterinarians” because it would place “annual limit” on what his department can spend to help grieving veterans from exposure to burns.
Republicans have also drawn criticism from Democrats for their motivation to block the bill.
Some Democrats see it as retaliation for a separate agreement struck last week by Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.) and Senator Joe Manchin (DW. Va.). That budget adjustment package is a top priority for Democrats and is being moved under special budget rules intended to prevent GOP violations.
After 25 Republicans who had previously voted “yes” to the veterans bill voted “no” on a measure to advance it last week, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (DN.Y. .) accused them of “taking our service members hostage for political gain.”
Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) accused them of plotting revenge after learning of the Schumer-Manchin agreement on climate and taxes.
“Republicans are furious that Democrats are about to pass climate change legislation and have decided to take their anger out on vulnerable veterans,” he told Vox.com.
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who led the debate on the floor, said it was “a very bad decision by the Republicans.”
Democratic aides say Schumer asked Toomey to vote on an amendment related to the mandatory spending designation six weeks ago, but 34 Republicans still voted for the bill despite the vote. That modification never happened.
In other words, even many of Toomey’s GOP colleagues were unprepared to block the popular bill during the complex debate over mandatory and discretionary spending earlier this summer. That changed when Democrats announced a groundbreaking deal on climate and taxes.
But now Republicans are being forced to play defensively and offer complicated explanations as to why they’re keeping the veterans bill in place.
They want to continue to attack and attack Democrats for raising taxes and driving inflation with climate and the tax bill they plan to pass this weekend.
Republicans backed Toomey last week but are poised to end the deadlock soon.
“Some of our members said, ‘Toomey has been talking about this for several weeks in our conference meetings, let’s try and fix this.’ He has a legitimate problem but clearly at some point this will pass and it will get big,” said Senate Republican John Thune (SD).