Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would help millions of military veterans sickened by exposure to toxic burn pits.
Comedian and veterans advocate Jon Stewart laced into Senate Republicans Thursday, accusing them of stabbing veterans in the back by blocking a bill that would expand health care benefits for veterans sickened by exposure to toxic chemicals during their military service.
Stewart's comments came after Senate Republicans filibustered the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022, also known as the Honoring Our PACT Act, on Wednesday despite a majority of them having supported a nearly identical form of the bill a month earlier. Republicans reportedly blocked the bill as a form of retaliation against Senate Democrats who just before the vote announced a bill intended to reduce inflation in the United States. The proposed anti-inflation bill includes $369 billion in climate spending, which Republicans in Congress oppose.
Stewart, who has advocated for years for Americans sickened by exposure to toxic chemicals at Ground Zero in New York and in military service, was in Washington, D.C., with military veterans for a planned celebration of the Honoring Our PACT Act's passage. The Republicans' 11th-hour about-face that blocked passage of the bill came as a surprise.
"It's the exact same bill. They changed one sentence in the House," Stewart told reporters Thursday outside the Capitol building. "It just makes the gut punch that much more devastating, is that these people all came down here so that they could finally tell the men and — " an emotional Stewart told reporters, stopping to regain his composure.
"Their constituents are dying," he said, referring to Republicans blocking the bill ahead of a weekslong congressional recess. "You know, tell their cancer to take a recess. Tell their cancer to stay home and go visit their families. This is a disgrace. If this is America First, America is fucked.""
Stewart said of the Republican lawmakers, "They love to say they support the troops, but they don't support the troops. They support the war machine."
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who had announced Wednesday that he had reached a deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on the inflation reduction legislation, accused Republicans of retaliation.
"Republicans now are basically holding the veterans hostage because they're mad," Manchin told reporters Thursday morning.
This isn't the first time Senate Republicans have blocked legislation to help Americans sickened by their service to the United States.
In 2015, Republicans blocked the reauthorization of a fund to help 9/11 first responders who developed cancer and other illnesses after their exposure to the burning rubble of the World Trade Center.
In 2019, Stewart criticized then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for slowing reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. After McConnell said he didn't know why Stewart was "all bent out of shape," Stewart responded:
Honestly, Mitch McConnell, you really want to go with the "We'll get to it when we get to it" argument for the heroes of 9/11? Listen, Senator, I know that your species isn't known for moving quickly. … But damn, Senator, you're not good at this argument thing. Basically we're saying you love the 9/11 community when they serve your political purposes, but when they're in urgent need, you slow-walk, you dither, you use it as a political pawn to get other things you want, and you don't get the job done completely. And your answer to that charge is, Yeah, duh, we're Congress, that's how we do.
Stewart on Thursday spoke of the long battles veterans have endured with Republicans, trying to get them to stop blocking legislation like the Honoring Our PACT Act.
After pointing out military veterans standing with him and the fact that the Republican lawmakers who voted to block the bill didn't have to look at them or even think of them as human beings, Stewart read a tweet in which Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida congratulated himself for joining the USO to "make care packages for our brave military members in gratitude for their sacrifice and service to our nation."
"I'm used to the lies, I'm used to the hypocrisy. ... I'm used to the cowardice. I've been here a long time," Stewart said. "I'm used to all of it. But I am not used to the cruelty."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.