Pennsylvania’s Casey, Toomey on opposite sides of federal burn pit legislation

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., speaks at a press conference on the PACT Act to benefit burn pit victims on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in Washington.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., speaks at a press conference on the PACT Act to benefit burn pit victims on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

A bill that would expand health care coverage for military veterans impacted by toxic burn pits was rejected by Republican senators last week.

The measure divided Pennsylvania’s two U.S. senators. Democrat Sen. Bob Casey urged Republicans to change their opposition to the measure that’s been hailed as the largest expansion of care in VA history.

Republicans balked last week, claiming the bill was an excuse to add $400 billion of spending to the mandatory category of the budget.

Casey said the bill initially had bipartisan support with 84 votes and those who voted against it now are just maneuvering to have their will done instead of the majority.

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“These veterans have been waiting for years, waiting for years for the federal government to do something,” Casey said during a conference call with reporters Monday. “Why the hell should this be held up when someone is making the case, as some senators are about, about appropriations down the road?”

Navy veteran Amber Viola joined Casey on the call advocating for the bill’s passage.

“When you ask people to sacrifice their life and time with their families and missing milestones and birthdays and holidays to be overseas and to be deployed, only to get home, to then not be able to have the medical care and service that you need,” Viola said. “It’s really a travesty.”

“I will remember that smell for the rest of my life,” said Army veteran Andy Chomko. He urged lawmakers to get this bill approved. “I don’t understand what needs to be done for our elected officials and our elected senators, congressmen, people that we send to Washington.”

Republican Senator Pat Toomey made several appearances on national TV Sunday, giving his reasons for why the bill cannot be passed in its current form.

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Speaking with Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Union, Toomey questioned the motives of Democrats supporting the bill.

“This is the oldest trick in Washington. People take a sympathetic group of Americans and it could be children with an illness. They could be victims of crime. It could be veterans who’ve been exposed to toxic chemicals, [and they] 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 reiterated his claim that the measure moves $400 billion in discretionary funding to mandatory funding, and without that provision, the measure would likely pass. He’s backing an amendment to get that done.

“If I get my way, I get my change, it will not change by one penny any spending on any veterans program. What I’m trying to do is change a government accounting methodology that is designed to allow our Democratic colleagues to go on an unrelated $400 billion spending spree.”

Navy vet Viola said the expanded healthcare coverage is urgently needed. “If this doesn’t pass, how are they going to be able to support their families once they are gone and what are they going to do?”

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