Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., on Sunday ripped Democrats for trotting out a “pseudo celebrity” like comedian Jon Stewart to “make up false accusations” about a veterans benefits bill that was blocked by Republicans last week.
During an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Toomey said he blocked the PACT Act, which would provide millions of veterans treatment for illnesses associated with their exposure to burn pits, because he wants an amendment added to prevent excessive spending in categories unrelated to veterans.
Toomey ripped Democrats for trying to paint him as anti-veteran for blocking the bill and Stewart, who has been at the forefront of the issue.
“First of all, this is the oldest trick in Washington,” Toomey said. “People take a sympathetic group of Americans, and it could be children with an illness., it could be victims of crime, it could be veterans who have been exposed to toxic chemicals, 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. Because they know they’ll unleash their allies in the media and maybe a pseudo celebrity to make up false accusations to try to get us to just swallow what shouldn’t be there.”
“Let me be very clear,” he said. “Republicans are not opposed to any of the substance of the PACT Act. My honest Democratic colleagues will fully acknowledge that my objection, and if I get my way, 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 that has nothing to do with veterans and that won’t be in the veteran space.”
“They could have agreed to this a month ago and this bill would sail through at any point in time,” he added. “When we strip out this completely unrelated provision worth $400 billion, I will vote for the bill.”
The Senate voted 84-14 last month in favor of the PACT Act, with a majority vote in both the House and Senate. It represents the most comprehensive veterans health care reform to date, establishing a presumptive service connection for veterans made gravely ill after inhaling toxic fumes that hung over their bases overseas, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The bill went back to the House, which recently passed a revised version, but further passage has been delayed by Toomey, who argued that there already was $400 billion allocated in the discretionary spending budget, and that moving it to the mandatory spending budget would be nothing more than a “gimmick” to avoid spending caps.
Officials from Sen. Toomey’s office also cited a provision they said was added to the PACT Act right before the debate of the bill on the Senate floor, which stated that any discretionary budget funds related to burn pits could become classified as mandatory spending. They told Fox News his amendment focused only on preventing current discretionary spending — occurring regardless of the PACT Act — from being shifted over to the mandatory spending budget. Any new discretionary funding related to toxic burn pit exposure would still be able to be transferred to the mandatory budget.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough, who appeared after Toomey on “State of the Union,” said the senator’s amendment would lead to the rationing of health care for veterans.
“The ($400B) fund is in the bill so that we can ensure … that all this spending for this program is for the veterans exposed to these toxins,” McDonough said. “And so he says it won’t impact our programming – in good conscience, I don’t see that to be the case. In fact, he puts a year-on-year cap on what we spend, and then at the end of 10 years, the fund goes away under his amendment. So the impact of that would be, if his estimations are wrong about what will spend in any given year, that means that we may have to ration care for veterans. And by the way, that’s not something I’ll sign up to.”
Toomey blasted McDonough’s comments on Twitter.
During an appearance on ABC News’ “This Week” Sunday, Stewart said Toomey’s stalling on the bill is “bananas.”
“The Toomey amendment is really about capping the fund,” Stewart argued. “It’s about putting caps on it and giving it a sunset clause for 10 years. We’ve been through this, and what Toomey’s amendment wants to do is make sure that our sick and dying veterans have the pleasure that our 9/11 first responders at Ground Zero had of having to come back to Washington, hat in hand, riddled with cancer and march through the halls of the Hill begging for money.”
“I mean, the whole thing has been, this is so bananas,” he added. “Nothing changed, so I don’t understand any of this.”