Updated: Aug 11
As proof of how divided our country is along political lines, one issue both sides tend to agree on has become a source of conflict this week. A bill supporting veterans' health that initially had bipartisan support in the Senate in June, the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, was stalled this week by Republicans flipping their vote. The PACT Act would remove the burden veterans previously faced to prove their injuries came from burn pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan to gain access to healthcare. The bill ultimately passed on Tuesday, but Democrats and suspicious media voices have accused Republicans of using veterans as political bargaining chips.
At the center of the drama was a feud between liberal television personality Jon Stewart and popular right-wing journalist Jack Posobiec in D.C. on Monday. In videos posted to Twitter and Youtube, Stewart yells at Posobiec, calling him "a f*cking troll" and stirring up others against him. Even though Posobiec repeatedly explains that he supports the bill and wants to talk with the senators who voted against it to find out why they did so, Stewart, who has been an outspoken supporter of the bill, continues to yell at Posobiec. After many attempts to calmly reason with the crowd and share that he is a veteran, they begin chanting at Posobiec, "shame, shame, shame." Although, eventually, Stewart and Posobiec break away from the crowd to talk and come to an understanding, this toxic behavior is all too familiar. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for shouting matches and name-calling to replace reason and good-faith discussions in the current political climate. The way this fight unfolded underpins how many conflicts arise in America: with an emotionally-charged mob unwilling to listen, shouting down anyone who disagrees with them. Meanwhile, the media has been quick to condemn republican senators who voted against the bill at the end of July for using veterans' health for political gain.
The PACT Act was initially passed in the Senate in June with an 82-14 vote before moving to the House, which corrected a minor procedural error. On July 27th, upon return to the Senate, the bill failed by a vote of 55-42. Many left-leaning political commentators and politicians, including Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), correlated the passage of the Democrat-sponsored Inflation Reduction Act and the blocking of the PACT Act, stating that Republicans initially supported the PACT Act and changed their vote as retaliation against Democrats for passing the spending bill. They argue Republicans did this at the expense of those who have sacrificed the most for our nation. While accusations fly, some Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), have acknowledged that some Republicans took issue with the bill before a deal on the Inflation Reduction Act had emerged. Gillibrand is referring to republicans like Sen. Pat Toomey, who raised concerns over how billions of dollars would be classified under the bill, allowing Congress to spend money on non-veteran issues under the guise of supporting veterans. Toomey remarked, "By failing to remove this gimmick, Congress would effectively be using an important veterans care bill to hide a massive, unrelated spending binge." Ted Cruz, who initially supported the bill in June, was one of 25 republicans to flip their vote in July. In a Twitter post addressed to Jon Stewart, Cruz states, "The bill gives a $400B blank check—separate from vets care—for unrelated pork that will supercharge inflation. I support the PACT Act & the $679.4B it would dedicate to vets. It's ppl trying to use PACT to shovel more pork who are exploiting vets." He continued, "We made very clear to the democrats - to Chuck Schumer - that if they passed Pat Toomey's amendment and they just shifted the spending back to discretionary, keep it at exactly the same level, but got rid of the hole for unrelated pork, that this bill would have passed last week with an overwhelming margin. The democrats decided not to. They wanted to play politics instead."
The irony is that both sides are accusing the other of the same thing: using veterans as a way to play political games. Democrats accuse Republicans of voting against the PACT Act as retaliation against passing an unwanted spending bill. Meanwhile, Republicans accuse Democrats of trying to pass a spending bill under the guise of veterans' health. Either way, the bill passed on Tuesday. Sen. Cruz took to Twitter after voting in favor of the bill, which includes the $400 billion Democrats wanted in discretionary spending, to say, " I'm proud to support the PACT Act and all our nation's veterans. While I ultimately supported the bill, because we need to take care of our veterans who have sacrificed so much to keep us safe, I'm disappointed that we couldn't come together to fix the Democrat-created budget gimmick that will allow Congress to subsequently spend another $400 billion in pork, on top of and completely unrelated to the laudable funding in this bill for veterans harmed by burn pits. Now it's up to Republicans to clean up this mess by lowering the discretionary cap - so that we protect every penny of veterans funding but prevent unrelated pork - when Republicans retake the majority. Having the back of our nation's veterans doesn't just mean making sure those who served get the care they rightly deserve. It also means stopping the Democrats' irresponsible spending spree and curbing inflation and price increases that hurt all Americans, including our veterans."
Republicans are understandably concerned about crafty spending as Democrats passed the Inflation Reduction Act last week, a $370 billion bill that is more of a climate change bill than an inflation reduction bill. The Inflation Reduction Act would increase inflation until 2024, according to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Responses to the passage of the PACT Act have been mixed, but everyone agrees that we need to take care of our veterans. It is shameful to think that any politician, Democrat or Republican, would use veterans as bargaining chips for political purposes.