(WASHINGTON) — After a series of delays and emotional protests, the Senate is expected to vote Tuesday night on a bill that would help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.
Schumer announced that the Senate will begin voting on the PACT Act at 5 p.m., with votes on three Republican amendments before a vote on final passage of the bill. Republicans agreed to the deal.
“I believe it will pass and pass this evening,” Schumer said during his weekly press conference.
The PACT Act passed the Senate earlier this year, but after a quick fix in the House required the bill to be voted on again, 26 Republican senators changed their votes and blocked swift passage of the act last week, sparking outrage among Democrats and veterans groups.
Comedian and activist Jon Stewart has become the face of this legislation, joining veterans in protest outside the Capitol for the last several days. He’s harshly criticized Republicans and demanded action from lawmakers.
“America’s heroes who fought in our wars outside sweating their asses off with oxygen, battling all kinds of ailments” while Republican senators were sitting “in the air conditioning walled off from any of it,” Stewart said during a press conference in front of the Capitol Building on Thursday. “They don’t have to hear it, they don’t have to see it. They don’t have to understand that these are human beings.”
Republicans said they did not object to the new funding for veterans in the bill, but wanted the opportunity to modify a “budget gimmick” they say could be exploited by Democrats. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., has led Republicans in their opposition, insisting on an amendment to change language in the bill he says could free up $400 billion in existing funds already being used for veterans by shuffling the money inside the budget to use for unrelated purposes.
“What matters to a veteran whose ill because of a toxic exposure is that the money is there to cover what he needs, that’s what he should be concerned about and that will be there,” Toomey said Tuesday. “What I am trying to limit is the extent that they could use a budget gimmick to reclassify a reclassify spending and go on an unrelated spending binge.”
Republicans will finally get their shot at closing this perceived budget loophole during a Tuesday night vote, when they consider Toomey’s amendment to modify accounting provisions in the bill. It will almost certainly fail.
“We have an exceptionally sympathetic overwhelmingly popular group of Americans, and rightfully so, they are veterans,” Toomey said. “There is overwhelming consensus to provide the resources to at least cover their healthcare cost and provide them with disability benefits because of their service to our country. In fact the cause is so popular that the 280 billion of new spending.
Schumer on the floor called today’s development “good news.”
“Our veterans across America can breathe a sigh of relief,” Schumer said on the floor. “The treatment that they deserve and have been denied by the VA because of all kinds of legal barriers and presumptions will now be gone.”
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