Casey, Toomey in opposite corners on burn pit issue

This is not the first time that Pennsylvania senators – Democrat Bob Casey Jr. and republican Pat Toomey – have been on opposite sides of an issue.

But this is one of the first occasions when one challenges the other on this question.

The bill in question would expand health care coverage for military veterans affected by toxic burn pits — areas used to burn solid waste in the open without equipment. It was rejected by Republican senators last week. Burn pits were a common way to dispose of waste at military sites during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this century, and millions of veterans have fallen ill from exposure to toxins in the pits.

Casey said the bill originally had bipartisan support to be eliminated from the Senate by an 84-14 vote. After being approved with technical corrections by the House, Senate Republicans chose to blocking the bill with 27 GOP members, including Toomey, changing their vote.

Why the change? Some Republicans claimed the bill was an excuse to add $400 billion in spending to the budget’s mandatory category. Others expressed frustration with the deal reached by the Senate Majority Leader chuck schumer (DN.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) that could help the president’s political fortunes Joe Biden.

“These veterans have been waiting for years, waiting for years for the federal government to do something,” Casey said in a conference call Monday. “Why on earth should this be delayed while someone is pleading, as some senators do, about upcoming appropriations?”

“It’s the oldest thing in Washington. People take a nice bunch of Americans and they might be sick kids. They might be victims of crime. They might be veterans who have been exposed to toxic chemicals, [and they] draft a bill to solve their problems and then sneak in something completely unrelated that they know could never pass on its own and challenge Republicans to do anything about it,” Toomey said.

Actor Jon Stewart and other activists have long campaigned for the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act to be passed. Stewart accused members of Congress in 2020 of giving veterans “the cold shoulder” with legislative inaction.

Schumer announced that the Senate would begin voting on the PACT Act at 5 p.m., with votes on three Republican amendments before a vote on the bill’s final passage. Republicans accepted the deal.

The three amendments — fixing the budget loophole, cutting aid to countries other than Israel over the next 10 years to help offset the costs of the bill, and allowing toxic-exposed veterans direct access to community care – were rejected.