Senate Passes Burn Pits Bill After Week-Long Fight Over Amendment Process

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Michael Ginsberg Congressional Correspondent
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The Senate passed the Honoring Our PACT Act 86-11, six days after Republicans held the legislation up in hopes of adding an amendment addressing billions in mandatory spending.

The bill authorizes $667 billion to go toward the care of veterans who contracted diseases from burn pits, as well as research on those diseases. Thirty-eight Republicans joined 48 Democrats in supporting the legislation, which passed the House 342-88 in July.

The Senate first passed the Honoring Our PACT ACT in June, 84-14, but slight changes in the House of Representatives required the upper chamber to take a second vote. Twenty-five Republicans switched their votes Wednesday to “no” after Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey called attention to a provision that would create $396 billion in mandatory spending, which he claimed would “likely will be filled with spending totally unrelated to veterans.”

Toomey proposed an amendment that would direct more than $116 billion and make the rest discretionary, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer refused to allow votes on amendments before Tuesday. Toomey’s amendment failed 47-48.

This could have been resolved months ago, as I had suggested it would be, but finally we’ve gotten to the point where we can resolve this. And I have to say, we are witnessing a very old Washington trick playing out on what might be an unprecedented scale. And what is that trick? That trick is you take a very sympathetic group of Americans, it could be children with rare diseases, it could be victims of crime, it could be veterans who are suffering an illness after having been exposed to toxic chemicals while serving our country. You take this sympathetic group, craft legislation to address their problems, and then sneak in something that’s completely unrelated, that could never pass on its own, and dare anyone to stand up and say a word about that. Because we all know if you raise the concern about the unrelated provision, people in this chamber and outside will stand up and make up all kinds of fabrications and falsehoods,” Toomey said on the Senate floor.

Prominent Democrats inside and outside of Congress used the delay to claim that Republicans were opposed to funding healthcare for veterans. Comedian Jon Stewart called Toomey a “consistent dick,” and claimed that his objections were “nonsense.” (RELATED: ‘He’s Been A Consistent D*ck’: Jon Stewart Lashes Out At Sen. Toomey Over Veteran Funding)

Veterans are currently eligible to receive disability benefits if they contract more than two dozen diseases after working near burn pits. More than 88% of veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars reported that they suffered from symptoms they believed were related to burn pits, according to a 2020 survey from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.