How angry are some Republicans at what they see as betrayal by a centrist Democrat? Angry enough to betray sick military veterans, apparently. That’s the only rational explanation for last week’s sudden about-face by two dozen Senate Republicans, including Missouri’s Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley, who opposed legislation they previously supported to make it easier for cancer-stricken veterans to get help from the government.
Facing ferocious public pushback, Blunt, Hawley and the other GOP senators who about-faced last week quickly about-faced again this week, resuming their previous support for the measure and passing it Tuesday. But this shouldn’t be mistaken for an all’s-well-that-ends-well story. What the episode reveals about the partisan insolence and general dysfunction infecting one of America’s two major political parties is beyond disturbing.
At issue was the Pact Act, a long-sought measure to streamline the process of getting federal health care benefits to millions of veterans sickened by toxins released by burn pits for chemical and biological refuse and other sources. It relieves vets of the burden of proving the cause-and-effect of their illnesses in order to obtain coverage. The cost of less than $30 billion a year is the least America can do for those who have served and fallen ill while militarily deployed abroad.
Most of the Senate thought so when the measure passed overwhelmingly with strong bipartisan support in June. When the bill returned to the Senate for a procedural revote last week, it appeared headed for easy reapproval. Instead, 25 Republican senators who had previously supported it voted against overcoming a filibuster, effectively stalling the measure.
Republicans claimed it was because the bill was written in a way that could usher in hundreds of millions of dollars in unrelated spending — a claim the bill’s supporters deny. If that really was the sticking point, why did those 25 Republicans support it in the first place?
As it happens, their reversal last week came just hours after top Democrats announced a deal with centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to approve a health care, climate and tax package that Manchin had previously opposed. Republicans were livid at what they considered a double-cross by their favorite Democrat. Republicans’ sudden reversal of their previous support for the veterans bill had an icy sheen of vengeance.
There’s something amusing about the notion that the fact-averse, norm-breaking, democracy-threatening GOP of the Trump era is feeling aggrieved that a key Democrat decided (for once) to support a Democratic priority of helping veterans.
But there’s nothing funny about a party that’s so all-consumed with digging ideological trenches and meting out partisan payback that it would betray sickened veterans to do it. Subsequently scurrying to pass the bill only because of a well-deserved backlash doesn’t hide, but spotlights, how indefensible this game was.
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