The Senate voted Tuesday night to pass long-sought bipartisan legislation to expand health care benefits for millions of veterans exposed to toxic combustion fireplaces during their military service, sending the bill to President Joe Biden to sign into law. The final vote was 86-11.
The passage of the bill marks the end of a long fight to pass the legislation through Congress, as veterans and their advocates have been protesting on Capitol Hill for days. Many veterans were allowed into the Senate gallery to watch the final vote on Tuesday night.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced after reaching the deal with Republicans that blocked the bill from moving forward last week as they sought to add vote-checking amendment votes. cost per package.
“I have good news, the Minority Leader and I have reached an agreement to vote on the PACT Act tonight,” Schumer said in the Senate. “I am very optimistic that this bill will pass so that our veterans across America can breathe a sigh of relief.”
The bill, titled Honoring our PACT Act, was approved by the House of Representatives in July.
The bill dramatically expands health care resources and benefits for those exposed to burning fireplaces and could cover up to 3.5 million veterans exposed to toxic substances. It adds conditions related to burn pit and toxic exposure, including hypertension, to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ list of illnesses that were contracted or exacerbated during military service.
The legislation had been stalled in the House since last week when more than two dozen Republicans, who previously supported the measure, momentarily prevented him from moving forward.
Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, rallied his Republican colleagues delaying legislation in exchange for amendment votes, particularly an amendment that would alter an accounting provision. Toomey previously said he wanted an amendment vote with a 50-vote threshold.
Toomey explains why he voted against the bill to help vets exposed to toxic combustion outbreaks
Tuesday’s final vote followed votes on three amendments with a threshold of 60 votes. Toomey’s amendment, which would have made a change to a budget component of the legislation, failed as expected, in a vote of 47 to 48.
Last week’s surprise move by Republicans prompted a swift response among veterans and veterans’ groups, including protests on the steps of the US Capitol over the weekend and early this week. Actor and political activist Jon Stewart — a leading veterans advocate on the issue — chastised GOP senators for holding back a bill that had garnered broad bipartisan support in previous votes.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell defended his party’s handling of the legislation at a press conference on Tuesday.
“Look, this kind of back and forth happens all the time in the legislative process, you’ve seen it over the years,” he said. “I think at the end of the day veterans service organizations will be happy with the end result.”
This story and headline were updated with additional developments on Tuesday.