Republicans reverse course as Senate passes cremation pit legislation


The Senate overwhelmingly gave the final signature Tuesday to legislation intended to help veterans combat illnesses they believe are linked to exposure to toxic substances, particularly those who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

In the 86-11 roll call, the vote was a political capitulation by Senate Republicans, a week after they blocked consideration of the popular legislation apparently out of political anger because Democrats reached a partisan agreement on a massive, unrelated domestic political bill that could Consider it later this week.

Republicans have been trying for days to argue that last Wednesday’s blocking of PACT had something to do with a technical argument about which part of the federal budget would fund $280 billion in new appropriations for veterans’ health programs.

But the 25 Republicans who had recently supported the same bill changed their votes last Wednesday, less than an hour after Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DNY) and the senator did. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.) announced his deal on ambitious legislation that has nothing to do with PACT.

Republicans absorbed a series of political blows, led by comedian Jon Stewart and several prominent veteran groups, which, by lunchtime Tuesday, had left many ready to settle the matter and vote to quickly send the legislation to President Biden’s office.

“He just beat the daylight from it,” Schumer said Wednesday at a ceremonial visit to dozens of veterans who have held a vigil on the Capitol’s North Lawn since last week’s failed election.

Democratic leaders have allowed Stewart, dozens of veterans, their families and other supporters into the chamber’s public gallery for the final series of votes — something that has happened fewer than a few times since the global pandemic emerged in March 2020 that prompted officials not to vote. Allow the general public to enter the galleries of the House and Senate.

In the end, 37 Republicans joined 49 members of the Democratic Caucus to vote in favor of the legislation, which would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to assume that some illnesses came from exposure to incineration of hazardous waste, and which focuses mostly on the scorch issue from recent wars. in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This would remove the burden of proof from injured veterans.

Senator. Missed Patrick C. Leahy (D-Fatou) voted for a recent hip replacement surgery.

In the final moments of the debate, the activists became emotional. Stewart, who had embraced the cause after a similar effort that helped lead him to first responders who had suffered the long-lasting effects of the 9/11 site, put his head in his right hand and began to cry as the roll call began. The crowd lit up with short cheers as the hammer fell, and they were soon warned by officials to break the decency that required silence.

When asked to explain the Republican Party’s reversal, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) offered no broad explanation and acknowledged that the legislation would pass with broad support.

“These things happen all the time with the legislative process,” McConnell told reporters at his weekly press conference, acknowledging defeat. “I ultimately think the veterans service organizations will be happy with the end result.”

Senator. John Tester (Democrat of Mount.), chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, credited the veterans groups and Stewart with taking what was previously a relatively obscure health problem and turning it into a national issue.

That’s who really did it, that’s who lifted it,” Tester said as he joined Schumer in an impromptu ceremony outside the Capitol.

Biden also gave the issue a prominent place in his State of the Union address in March, followed by a trip to a community in Texas next week to highlight its importance.

“We follow the science in every case, but we won’t force veterans to suffer in limbo for decades,” Biden said during his March visit to Texas.

In his remarks, the president noted that his son Bo served in and around Baghdad as a district attorney general in the Delaware Army National Guard, on bases where waste was burned at an open-air site.

State Attorney General Beau Biden died in 2015 of brain cancer, although there has never been a diagnosis that linked the cancer to his service in Iraq or other jobs abroad.

“While we can never fully repay the massive debt we owe to those who wore the uniform, today the United States Congress took significant action to fulfill this sacred obligation,” the president said in a statement after Tuesday’s vote. “Congress secured a decisive bipartisan victory for America’s veterans.”

In a sign of his devotion to the cause, the president planned to surprise veterans who were holding a vigil outside the Capitol over the weekend with a pizza delivery, but he tested positive for the coronavirus and resumed quarantine.

Instead, Veterans Affairs Secretary Dennis McDonough arrived with pizza.

Experts are often unsure of a direct link between certain cancers or diseases and burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the military often burns large amounts of waste — including plastics, batteries or vehicle parts — that has released plumes of dangerous chemicals. Up in the air.

Veterans then have to prove a direct link between the cancer and the chemicals in the burn pit, a threshold that is sometimes difficult to meet, especially if the condition does not develop until years after the outbreak. Studies have shown that Veterans Affairs rejects the vast majority of claims.

“You could talk to any of those people and say we’d rather not be here,” Tester said.

Schumer took a similar approach, happy with the legislation finally passed.

“all’s well That ends well.”

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