Three of the region’s four U.S. senators decided Wednesday to hold sick veterans hostage to their own anger. It’s appalling and childish.
The senators — Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Roger Marshall of Kansas — voted against blocking a filibuster of the PACT Act, a measure designed to provide funding to treat veterans exposed to toxins and burn pits.
The bill has been under discussion for years. It would cost about $30 billion annually, a pittance in a multitrillion-dollar federal budget. But the cost is less important than the cause: The nation has promised to help sick veterans, and voted Wednesday to break that promise.
“If you have the guts to send somebody to war, then you better have the guts to take care of them when they get home,” Sen. Jon Tester of Montana said on the Senate floor, to little effect.
The vote to end the filibuster was 55 yes to 42 no (Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer switched his vote to “no” in order to bring the measure back later.) In the Senate, of course, it takes 60 votes to open a can of bean soup, so the bill remains unpassed, while veterans suffer and die.
The votes should infuriate Kansans and Missourians. The three senators voted for a virtually identical bill in June, which passed overwhelmingly. Blunt even bragged about it: “Blunt votes in favor of historic, bipartisan bill to ensure health care and benefits for toxic-exposed veterans,” his press release said.
Why the change of heart now?
Here’s one suggestion: Senate Republicans were furious at a budget deal, announced just moments earlier, between Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Manchin agreed to support a budget bill raising corporate taxes to pay for deficit reduction and climate change mitigation.
The tax and budget bill would need a simple majority to pass, not 60 votes. That made Republicans mad.
So let’s get this straight: Because Blunt, Hawley and Marshall were angry about a tax and climate bill, they decided to make veterans suffer? It boggles the mind.
“How dare they use veterans as a bargaining chip,” Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat, said in a tweet.
Comedian and activist Jon Stewart, who came to Kansas City this summer to urge progress on the PACT proposal, was equally furious. “Not one of these stab vets in the back senators should get to leave for the Summer til this s*** is fixed,” he tweeted. “Not one.”
We agree. If you need a precise picture of why Congress is broken, Wednesday’s vote is as good as any: In a fit of pique over an unrelated compromise, Senate Republicans punished veterans struggling to breathe.
We should pause here to thank Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, who was one of just eight Republicans who voted in support of veterans. We congratulate him on his good sense, and hard work for veterans. We wish he would share both with his colleagues.
The other three senators should apologize, and vote to proceed to the bill if — when — it comes back to the Senate floor. If they want to oppose the Schumer-Manchin tax and climate bill on its merits, they are free to do so later.
Until then, Sens. Blunt and Marshall should be disinvited from any Veterans Day service or Memorial Day observance until the PACT Act is signed into law.
Josh Hawley? No need to worry. If he sees an upset veteran approaching, he’ll run the other way.