(MSNBC) - The House passed a bill to help veterans exposed to toxic smoke from burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. It did not, however, pass unanimously.
In his State of the Union address this week, President Joe Biden highlighted an issue that doesn’t generally get a lot national attention: U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan who were exposed to toxic smoke from burn pits.
“These burn pits that incinerate waste — the wastes of war, medical and hazardous material, jet fuel, and so much more,” the president explained.
As a result, servicemen and women who breathed in fumes from these burn pit often return home and experience serious symptoms. There are concerns that prolonged exposure to burn pits might even be responsible for giving some veterans cancer.
With this in mind, Biden called on Congress to approve a law “to make sure veterans devastated by toxic exposure in Iraq and Afghanistan finally get the benefits and the comprehensive healthcare they deserve.”
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The legislation, known as the Honoring Our PACT Act (Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act), would expand treatment eligibility, and it has plenty of champions on Capitol Hill.
Indeed, it cleared the House yesterday — though it did not pass unanimously.
The final tally was 256 to 174, with 34 Republicans voting with all House Democrats in support of the bill.
That means, of course, that 174 GOP lawmakers voted against the legislation — roughly 82 percent of the House Republican conference.
That includes every member of the House GOP leadership team, each of whom knew the bill would pass, but opposed it anyway.
And why in the world would they vote against such a bill? The Washington Post reported:
Republicans who voted in opposition argued that the measure, which has a $300 billion price tag over 10 years, would add too much to the country’s deficit and exacerbate backlogs at VA.
Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa, who’s both a physician and a military veteran, argued, “We are not doing right by our veterans by being fiscally irresponsible in their name.”
In other words, the House GOP minority believes Democrats wrote a bill that’s too generous when it comes to veterans’ care.
As the Post’s report added, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters said she was “amazed and surprised” by Republicans’ criticism of the bill’s price tag.
“It’s a cost of war,” Pelosi said. “For the Republicans to go to the floor and say that veterans really don’t want this help because it’s going to cost money, and they’re more concerned about the budget [than] they are about their health.
Oh, really? You just gave tax cuts in 2017 to the richest people in America. Tax cuts for the rich, cancer for our veterans. That’s how we see this discussion.”
VoteVets, a progressive veterans’ organization, added via social media, “174 Republicans voted AGAINST veterans. Remember that — because we will.”
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Last month, the Senate approved a narrower version of the bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen.
Jon Tester, the chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, though he conceded at the time that his bill was an incremental step, which he intended to expand.
As the upper chamber receives the House-backed bill, the White House has formally endorsed the House version. Watch this space.