U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) had a brief response to comedian Jon Stewart calling him out specifically while criticizing Senate Republicans on Wednesday for blocking a bill to provide healthcare for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits while serving abroad.
“That’s not worth responding to,” Toomey said when asked for his reaction.
The military burn pits bill, or PACT Act, initially passed the 100-member Senate with the support of 34 Republicans and all 50 Democrats. It would increase spending by more than $300 billion over the next decade and dramatically boost health care services and disability benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, even if they don’t have a service-connected disability. The bill also would provide new or increased disability benefits to thousands of veterans who have become ill with cancer or respiratory conditions such as bronchitis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It had the backing of the nation’s major veterans groups.
A technical correction delayed the legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives and then Toomey blocked a quick procedural passage in the Senate, citing his issues with how money was appropriated in the bill.
Without Toomey’s amendment, the bill came up for a final vote in the Senate late Wednesday and won the support of 55 senators. That was five votes short of the 60 needed for passage, which set off Stewart, who both used Twitter and a press conference to express his unhappiness.
“I’m used to the lies, I’m used to the hypocrisy, I’m used to the cowardice, I’m used to all of it, but I am not used to the cruelty,” Stewart told reporters outside the Senate during a Thursday news conference called by the bill’s advocates.
Republicans “haven’t met a war they won’t sign up for and they haven’t met a veteran they won’t screw over,” he said.
Stewart had used Twitter on Wednesday night to criticize Toomey, starting his thread with: “Congratulations @SenToomey You successfully used the Byzantine Senate rules to keep sick veterans suffering!!!!”
In the thread, Stewart added, “For the veterans, and their families and caregivers who will bear the brunt of this nonsense … this isn’t over … we will never stop the fight until this country honors its promise to you.”
As for Toomey, he explained why he voted against the bill in a tweet he posted Tuesday: “Tonight, the Senate voted to give us the chance to fix a completely unnecessary budget gimmick in the underlying text of the PACT Act. This gimmick allows $400B in spending completely unrelated to veterans care. We can easily fix this tonight, and there is no reason we cannot do so NOW. This simple fix would not reduce spending on veterans in the underlying bill by a single penny. It’s wrong to use a veterans bill to hide an unrelated slush fund.”
That “fix” did not take place, setting off the usual partisan finger-pointing.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a short address Thursday said Toomey’s amendment “would ensure we do not just apply a financial Band-Aid to the problem but actually fix the underlying accounting issue. As written, the legislation would not just help America’s veterans as designed. It could also allow Democrats to effectively spend the same money twice and enable hundreds of billions in new, unrelated spending on the discretionary side of the federal budget.
“There is no excuse why the Democratic Leader should continue to block Senator Toomey’s commonsense amendment. A bill this important and this bipartisan deserves for us to fix this accounting gimmick, and then it deserves to become law.”