Washington, DC

Republican Senators Change Their Vote, Blocking a Bill to Help Sick Veterans.

Kevin Alexander

After voting to pass same bill in June, 25 Republican Senators abruptly changed their votes, blocking the legislation from passing.

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Comedian Jon Stewart speaks at a press conference on a bill providing health care to veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.Jennifer Shutt/ States Newsroom)

Veterans and their families gathered in Washington DC last week for what was supposed to be a celebration.

The Senate was finally going to pass a bill providing health care and benefits to millions of veterans exposed to toxins- from Agent Orange in Vietnam to the burn pits in the middle east. It was supposed to be a day of relief and the end of a long fight lasting much longer than most advocates' tours of duty.

Instead, 25 Republican senators blocked the measure despite voting for it last month.

Touted as one of the most significant expansions of VA care ever, the passage of the bill known as the PACT Act would mean veterans would no longer have to prove their illness was caused by direct toxic exposure while in the military.

Veterans' health is an issue traditionally receiving broad bipartisan support; indeed, the measure passed overwhelmingly in the Senate by a vote of 84-14 in June.

So what happened?

A technical error triggered another vote, and with more than two dozen Republican senators switching their votes, the final tally was 55-42 (3 senators abstained), falling just short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the filibuster.

Afterward, several Republican senators could be seen fist-bumping one another on the Senate floor.

Sherrod Brown (D-OH) called the switch a "gimmick," stating:

"Millions of men and women – patriots like Heath Robinson – served this nation without asking once what was in it for them...Yesterday, Senate Republicans thanked them for their service by using them and their families as a bargaining chip in their latest political game. Their gimmick will not work – we're going to make good on our promise to veterans."

Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Jon Tester (D-MT) concurred, adding,

"Yesterday, dozens of Senate Republicans turned their backs on our nation's veterans and their families by voting against the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act. It was unacceptable and a slap in the face to every member of our all-volunteer military—those who served and sacrificed with the promise they would be taken care of when they returned home. My colleagues can make up all sorts of excuses as to why they decided to change their vote for this bill, but the bottom line is, veterans will suffer and die as a result on behalf of these excuses, and that's why we've got to pass this bill."

Republicans claim that moving this aid from a discretionary to mandatory category is a gimmick. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) has been leading the charge against the bill and claims that fixing the technical error won't reduce spending or limit the expansion of care.

Senate leader Mitch McConnell claims to support the substance of the bill, but not the way it is written.

Those issues didn't concern almost 30 senators in June but seem to now. Those senators are:

John Barrasso, Marsha Blackburn, Roy Blunt, Mike Braun, Bill Cassidy, John Cornyn, Tom Cotton, Kevin Cramer, Ted Cruz, Joni Ernst, Deb Fischer, Bill Hagerty, Josh Hawley, Cindy Hyde-Smith, Jim Inhofe, Ron Johnson, John Kennedy, Roger Marshall, Mitch McConnell, Rob Portman, Ben Sasse, Tim Scott, Rick Scott, Dan Sullivan, and Todd Young.

Some of those voting no are veterans themselves.

"Promises were made, and promises were broken," said Kristina Keenan of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "Sens. Cotton, Ernst, Sullivan are veterans, and they are delaying healthcare for some of the men and women that they served with."

Democratic lawmakers feel that citing the technical error is political cover. The actual reason for such an abrupt shift is GOP anger over democrats being close to passing sweeping climate change legislation.

Speaking on ABC, TV show host Jon Stewart railed against Toomey's amendment, claiming:

"What Toomey's amendment wants to do is make sure our sick & dying veterans have the pleasure our 9/11 first responders at Ground Zero had of having to come back to Washington, hat in hand, riddled w/cancer, & march through the halls of the hill begging for money."

Following widespread outrage over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would schedule another procedural vote for today.

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