Guest post by John Hughes
Yesterday (28 July 2022), I opened the internet news and found the following headlines:
NBC – “Blindsided veterans erupt in fury after Senate GOP tanks toxic burn pit bill”
The Washington Post – “Republicans stall bill to aid veterans exposed to toxic burn pits”
VFW – “VFW Expresses Outrage Over Senators Failing to Advance PACT Act”
Military Times “New benefits for burn pit victims in limbo after Senate Republicans block plan”
In the year 2022, I am used to media bias but the unity of headlines as well as military advocacy groups chiming in prompted me to dig deeper. Predictably, google and bing algorithms steered toward the above stories. I am also interested in the story as I am a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, spent nearly 30 months near burn pits myself, and have had lung problems since my first of 4 deployments. Although I cannot prove it, I suspect I also had some effects of the burn pits so I really wanted to get to the backstory. There had to be a pragmatic reason why 41 GOP senators voted against the veteran benefit bill that had broad bipartisan and public support.
Deep in the NBC story, the reporters acknowledged that “Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., who voted against the legislation in June, has remained vocally critical of the bill. Yesterday, after the vote, he said that the bill included a “budget gimmick” that moved $400 billion over 10 years from “discretionary to the mandatory spending category,” which he considered unreasonable.”1
I then investigated what the House must have debated about the bill and found Claudia Tenney’s (R-NY) Congressional Representative Website: “I voted “No” on the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act.I strongly support efforts to deliver much-needed relief to veterans suffering from exposure to dangerous toxins… Unfortunately, this legislation, as considered by the House of Representatives, used an accounting trick to shift the spending from discretionary to mandatory, which could open the door to even further reckless spending by President Biden, Speaker Pelosi, and Leader Schumer despite inflation recently hitting a 41-year-high of 9.1 However, I will continue to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to improve upon this concern and ensure that we keep our commitment to veterans and deliver the care, resources, and support they need and deserve.”2
The 28 JUL 2022 US Senate vote on the PACT Act happened just hours after Senator Manchin changed his mind and supported the $739 Billion Inflation Reduction Act, which is the watered down version of Biden’s elusive Build Back Better Act. With the $400 Billion accounting trick built into the PACT Act, the Democrats have over $1 Trillion in new spending planned as the country officially enters a recession (2 negative growth quarters in a row) and has 9.1% inflation largely due to excessive government spending on Biden’s watch. Even Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos, who is an ardent supporter of the democrat party commented in May 2022, “They know inflation hurts the neediest most. Remember the administration tried their best to add another $3.5 Trillion to federal spending. They failed but if but if they had succeeded, inflation would be even higher than it is today and inflation is at a 40 year high.”3
So looking at the big picture, it is apparent the democrats snuck in a provision that would allow $400 Billion in additional spending unrelated to veterans benefits into the veterans bill, knowing they could get a public outcry if the bill was blocked because they had so many veterans groups lined up to support the bill, thereby politicizing veterans’ health issues for a quick victory in unrelated spending. Worse, this extra $1 Trillion in spending will likely make inflation worse which will harm the very veterans they purport to be helping. After the surreal embarrassment of August 2021 with the US retreat from Afghanistan, I consider this the second Democrat insult to Afghanistan and Iraq veterans in a year. This should have been a ‘clean’ bill with no political strings or tricks attached.
The GOP, for its part, should have anticipated the blowback from the vote and failed to release a public message to expose the truth hidden in the legislation. Hopefully they can remedy the situation ASAP and educate America on what the democrats are doing behind the scenes and what the effects on the US economy and inflation will likely be. That being said, if they can convince the democrats to remove the insane budget ‘fat’ from the bill and turn the PACT Act into a clean bill devoid of any political pork, they should support it so the veterans can receive help and the House and Senate can return to important issues such as fixing the US economy.
John Hughes, MD
USMA Class of 1996 (#1 graduate)
3rd Generation West Pointer
4 combat tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan
1Chan, Melissa et al. “Blindsided veterans erupt in fury after Senate GOP tanks toxic burn pit bill.” NBCNews.com 28 JUL 2022.