After 25 Republican senators switched their votes to oppose a bill that would expand veteran care for service-members exposed to toxic chemicals, Democrats and the media accused them of taking a hostage due to frustration with Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s budget reconciliation agreement.
The Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022 first passed the upper chamber in June 84-14, but grammatical changes in the House-passed version required the Senate to hold another vote on the package on Wednesday, July 27. Twenty-five Republicans withdrew their support from the Honoring Our PACT Act, preventing the bill from reaching 60 votes and clearing a filibuster.
Since the legislation did not substantively change between the two votes, many Democrats claimed that Republicans switched their votes out of anger toward the reconciliation deal. Manchin announced Wednesday that he and Schumer would put forward the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes more than $700 billion in new spending. (RELATED: Dems’ ‘Inflation Reduction Act’ Will Have No Effect On Inflation, Analysis Finds)
“The more charitable explanation is that 30 Republicans just changed their mind,” Democratic Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy said in a floor speech. “The less charitable explanation is this, Republicans are mad that Democrats are on the verge of passing climate change legislation and have decided to take out their anger on vulnerable veterans. Because that’s the other thing that’s changed in the last three weeks.”
Comedian Jon Stewart, a prominent supporter of the legislation, accused Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania of “rally[ing] the forces of misinformation” alongside their “band of merry monsters.”
Blocking veterans benefits out of spite and celebrating with a fist bump is a mind-boggling act of disrespect. The only way for Republicans to make this right is to pass the PACT Act on Monday. America is watching.
— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) July 31, 2022
Toomey, who voted against the legislation in June, introduced an amendment that would convert mandatory spending into discretionary spending, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York did not allow a vote on the proposal. Toomey’s amendment changes the funding from “such sums as are necessary” for “the delivery of veterans’ health care,” “expenses incident to the delivery,” and “medical and other research,” to $116.6 billion in “direct spending” to go toward those objectives through 2031. Without the amendment, the Honoring Our PACT Act would add $396 billion in mandatory spending to the federal deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Toomey’s office claimed that the mandatory $396 billion “likely will be filled with spending totally unrelated to veterans.”
Overall, the CBO expects the bill to release $667 billion toward veterans’ burn pit exposure care. Proponents like Stewart contend that stripping this language out would lead to care going unfunded, because the spending has “always been mandatory.” Toomey’s amendment would not impact that top-line number.
“It’s wrong to use a veterans bill to hide a $400 billion unrelated slush fund. The Senate could have fixed this weeks ago, and we can still fix it now. We can very quickly amend the PACT Act to remove this budget gimmick without reducing spending on veterans in the underlying bill by a single penny,” Toomey said in a statement to the Daily Caller.
The Senate is expected to hold another vote on the Honoring Our PACT Act before the August recess. Schumer has pledged to allow Republicans to propose amendments to the package before the next vote.