Senate passes bill to extend benefits to burn-out veterans; Jon Stewart sparked uproar after Republicans blocked previous vote – Deadline

The Senate has passed legislation to extend health and disability benefits to millions of veterans exposed to toxic burns in Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas of military engagement.

The 86-11 vote came after Republicans blocked the legislation last week, with a number of lawmakers already backing it when it was introduced in the Senate in June.

Jon Stewart, a longtime veterans advocate, has lambasted the opposition, speaking at Capitol Hill rallies several times over the past week and making a series of media appearances on broadcasts from the Sunday Network, Fox News and Newsmax. Stewart was in the chamber for the Senate vote and hugged veterans after it passed.

The bill, the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (or PACT ACT), is designed to address veterans’ inability to access health care because they have reported a range of illnesses. It now goes to President Joe Biden for signature.

The military used burn pits to incinerate waste, hazardous materials and jet fuel, but troops breathed in the toxic fumes. President Joe Biden has suggested that the brain cancer that killed his son, Beau, may have been linked to his exposure to fire pits while serving in Iraq and Kosovo.

Last week, when the legislation failed to get the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate, Stewart chastised Republican lawmakers who voted against it. On Thursday, he appeared with one of the bill’s main sponsors, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and other lawmakers, telling reporters, “Isn’t that a bitch? America’s heroes, who fought in our wars, out sweating, while these mothers sit in the air conditioning, away from it all.

The bill appeared to be poised to receive substantial bipartisan support until Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) urged members this week to vote against it, saying the bill contained a budget gimmick to open $400 billion in spending ‘unrelated to veterans care.’ But Stewart and other Democrats have dismissed those concerns. A number of Democrats have accused Republicans of blocking the legislation in retaliation, given that the vote took place shortly after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced a deal on the climate, health care and tax reconciliation bill.

While celebrities have lobbied for their causes on Capitol Hill for years, drawing media attention to the proposed legislation, Stewart has taken it to another level with his willingness to shame lawmakers, even if it means tangle with them on social media and the like. After Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) claimed Democrats were playing a “fiscal trick,” Stewart said on Meet the press that Cruz’s argument was “just a salad of words he spits into his coffee cup on his way to God knows where”. Cruz ended up voting for the bill on Tuesday.

But the attention Stewart drew to the Senate’s failure to pass the legislation may have had the desired effect of getting under lawmakers’ shoes. On CNN, Toomey attempted to dismiss Stewart as a “pseudo-celebrity” who tried to “make up false accusations to try and get us to swallow what shouldn’t be there.”

The latest vote on the legislation came after an agreement was reached on holding a vote on amendments by Toomey and others. They all failed to pass. Toomey ultimately voted against the bill, along with Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) , Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. James Risch (R-ID), Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL).