A bill to expand health care access for military veterans who became ill after being exposed to toxic burn pits has been stalled because of efforts of Democrats’ desire “to go on an unrelated $400 billion spending spree,” Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
Driving the news: Toomey joined other Republican lawmakers this week in voting against advancing the bill, known as the PACT Act.
- “The PACT Act as written includes a budget gimmick that would allow $400 billion of current law spending to be moved from the discretionary to the mandatory spending category. This provision is completely unnecessary to achieve the PACT Act’s stated goal of expanding health care and other benefits for veterans,” Toomey said in a statement last week.
- Comedian Jon Stewart criticized Republican lawmakers who voted against the measure for their “casual cruelty” during an appearance on CNN on Thursday, calling out Toomey by name and saying Toomey’s objections that part of the bill’s funding could be put to unrelated uses were “utter nonsense .”
The big picture: “This is the oldest trick in Washington. People take a sympathetic group of Americans…craft a bill to address their problems and then sneak in something completely unrelated that they know could never pass on its own and dare Republicans to do anything about it ,” Toomey said.
- Toomey stressed that Republicans were not opposed to the “substance” of the PACT Act.
- “What I’m trying to do is change a government accounting methodology designed to allow our Democratic colleagues to go on an unrelated $400 billion spending spree that has nothing to do with veterans and won’t be in the veterans’ space,” he added of his desire to amend the bill, noting that other Republicans might have other amendments.
The other side: Denis McDonough, secretary of Veterans Affairs, followed Toomey on “State of the Union”, explaining that the $400 billion fund Republicans object to is included in the bill to ensure that “all the spending for this program is for the veterans exposed to these toxins .”
- In a speech on the Senate floor earlier this week, Toomey outlined an amendment proposal to keep the $400 billion fund “in the category where it’s always been, the discretionary spending category.”
- McDonough added that Toomey’s amendment there would be a year-on-year cap on spending and that after 10 years the fund would “go away.”
- “If his estimates are wrong about what we’ll spend in any given year, that means that we may have to ration care for veterans,” McDonough said.
- Toomey hits back at McDonough’s claims in a tweet later Sunday, writing that McDonough “is either misinformed about my proposed amendment or willfully dishonest.”
Stewart appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press“ on Sunday to respond to criticism of the bill by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), whose comments echoed Toomey’s.
- “The difference between mandatory and discretionary…that’s just a word salad that he’s spewing into his coffee cup on his way to god-knows-where,” Stewart said.
- “At some point we all have to live in reality. And what he’s saying is just factually incorrect,” he added.
- “The bill that Ted Cruz voted ‘yes’ had the exact same funding provisions as the bill he voted ‘no’ on. It’s the exact same bill. None of this makes any sense.”