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Veteran’s burn pit health care bill blocked in Senate. Both Lee and Romney were ‘no’ votes

The U.S. Capitol dome is seen from a window in the Cannon House Office Building at the Capitol in Washington, June 21, 2022.
Patrick Semansky
AP, file
The U.S. Capitol dome is seen from a window in the Cannon House Office Building at the Capitol in Washington, June 21, 2022.

Update, Aug. 2, 2022: After another scheduled vote, the Senate has passed the PACT Act and sent it to President Joe Biden's desk. Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney kept to their earlier no votes on the bill. Our original story continues below.

Legislation to provide enhanced health care and disability benefits to millions of American veterans has stalled in the Senate. Both Utah Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee voted against it.

A nearly identical bill passed the Senate in June, 84-14, but a tax provision in that bill was removed after it raised constitutionality concerns in the House. The revised bill then sailed through that chamber 324-88.

The PACT Act would broaden health care access for veterans who got sick after exposure to toxic “burn pits,” which were commonly used by the military to dispose of waste during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The bill’s July 27 Senate vote did not overcome a filibuster, failing 55-42 after some Republicans raised concerns about what they called a “budget gimmick” that could open the door to more unrelated spending.

On Thursday, Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester called the move “political malpractice.”

“We, in essence, yesterday, took benefits away from the people who have been impacted by war, that we sent off to war,” he said. “And we turn our backs and say, ‘no.’”

Lee and Romney’s “no” votes matched their first votes on the bill in June.

In a statement, Romney called the scope and cost of the bill “astronomical and unjustified.” The Congressional Budget Office estimates the legislation would cost $667 billion over the next nine years.

Lee’s statement said taxpayers and countless service members could be “wrongfully shortchanged” without an amendment that fixes the bill.

The Veterans Affairs Office of Salt Lake City told KUER they do not comment on pending legislation. It provided a statement by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough, who said the VA “strongly supports” the PACT Act because it will help get more veterans into VA care.

Utah Marine Corps veteran James Touma, who works at KUER sister organization PBS Utah, said congress needs to act now.

“I’d like to see some level of action because at this point, basically what they’re doing to us is just considering us expendable, basically,” he said. “Without any actual action, a lot of these people are going to continue suffering from all the adverse effects that happened.”

CNN reports that Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer plans to schedule another procedural vote to break the GOP filibuster on Aug. 1.

Corrected: August 7, 2022 at 4:06 PM MDT
An earlier version of this story misspelled Sen. Jon Tester's name.
Updated: August 2, 2022 at 6:31 PM MDT
Updated with the results of the latest Senate vote on the PACT Act.
Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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