by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Democrats have been pounding Republicans for the last few days for supposedly betraying veterans. Republican senators have not allowed a final vote on the PACT Act, which expands treatment for veterans exposed to burn pits during their service, because they want an amendment — even though the same bill passed the Senate in June with 84 votes.
The issue is complicated, and not everyone who has been talking about it in public has seemed to be in command of the facts.
Here’s what the Republican objectors, led by Senator Pat Toomey (Pa.), have right: The bill, as written, effectively loosens the caps on discretionary spending by $390 billion. The Congressional Budget Office said so shortly before the June vote. That means it would be easier procedurally to spend an additional $390 billion — not on veterans’ health care, not even on a “VA slush fund” that has entered this confused debate, but on anything. Adopting Toomey’s amendment, as he has repeatedly explained, would not cut veterans’ benefits by one dollar.
Here’s what the Democrats have right: This objection applied to the June bill, too, and most Republicans — thinking, at the time, that it would be moving quickly to the president’s desk — voted for it anyway.
There are two theories to explain the Republican behavior. The theory that progressives have been advancing for the last few days is that Republicans have turned their backs on veterans out of pique at the Democrats’ increased likelihood of passing a big spending bill thanks to the Manchin–Schumer agreement, or just to be cruel.
An alternative theory is that Republicans other than Toomey were slow to grasp the implications of the bill for the discretionary caps and want, as they say, to amend the bill to fix the problem.