PACT Act: VA secretary says Republican-backed amendments to fire pit legislation would lead to ‘care rationing for vets’

McDonough told CNN’s Jake Tapper on ‘State of the Union’ that an amendment proposed by Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey would put ‘a year-over-year cap’ on what the VA can spending to care for veterans suffering from exposure to burn pits and ending the fund after 10 years, telling Tapper: “I cannot in good conscience do this because the result of this will be rationing care for vets, which I just can’t sign.”

“This has been President Biden’s No. 1 priority,” McDonough said, touting the executive action steps the Biden administration has already taken to remove the burden of proof for veterans seeking care for a toxic exposure. “I guess what I would say is that these people have waited long enough. Let’s do it, and let’s also not be for a proposal that imposes artificial caps year by year, and then functionally, at the end of these 10 years, wipes out that fund. Let’s not buy into that, because at the end of the day, the risk will be to ration veterans’ care.

On Saturday, McDonough visited people protesting at the Capitol in support of the legislation, delivering pizza to the group, which pledged to stay overnight. President Joe Biden, who remains in isolation at the White House after testing positive for Covid-19 again on Saturday, told the group via a FaceTime call: “I’ll tell you what, as long as I have a breath in me. , I will fight to make it happen – as long as I have a breath in me.”

The Pennsylvania Republican accused Democrats of trying to “sneak into something completely unrelated that they know could never pass on its own” while reiterating that he and his fellow Republicans are “not opposed ” to the fundamental provisions of the bill.

“[Democrats] know they’ll unleash their allies in the media and maybe some pseudo-celebrity to make up false accusations to try to suck us into what shouldn’t be there,” Toomey said in an apparent reference to comedian Jon Stewart, an advocate for victims of exposure to toxic combustion fireplaces who has been vocal since the failed procedural vote.
Stewart, who criticized Toomey last week for voting against the bill, vowed on Sunday to join advocates for the legislation camped on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and refuse to leave until the Senate has approved the bill.

“We will do our best to make sure that justice is served and that these veterans get – not a right – but what they have earned and what this country must respect,” he told NBC.

Toomey’s opposition to the legislation centers on the accounting categorization of certain expenses in the bill, which he says would “allow our fellow Democrats to embark on an unrelated $400 billion spending spree.” . He said he wanted a vote on his amendment to change the categorization of expenses before agreeing to the bill going to a vote.

“We’re spending way too much money to use — to hide behind a veterans bill, the opportunity to go on an unrelated $400 billion spending spree is a mistake,” Toomey said. “And we shouldn’t allow it.”

When pressed on the text of the legislation that says allocated money must be spent on health care for veterans who have been injured as a result of exposure to a toxic burn pit, Toomey said. rejected this interpretation of the bill.

“That’s why they do this stuff,” said Toomey, who is not running for office this year. “Because it gets very deep in the weeds and very confusing for people very quickly. It’s not really about veterans’ expenses. It’s about what category of government accounting they place veterans’ expenses in. Veterans.”

In response to Toomey’s comments, Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, told CNN’s Jim Acosta Sunday night that Democrats weren’t firing “fast.”

“I disagree with his assessment, and I think the veterans who serve this country are quite important because they fight for our freedoms, and they make sure we’re safe,” said Test.

“And when it takes time to deal with them, we have to step in and do it. That’s the price of war,” he added.

This story has been updated with additional reaction.

Sonnet Swire and CNN’s Sarah Fortinsky contributed to this report.

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