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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz voted to advance federal legislation expanding health care protections for certain military veterans after fierce criticism for voting to delay its passage last week.
The U.S. Senate passed legislation Tuesday that will help provide care for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.
While several Republicans delayed the bill’s passage because they said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wouldn’t allow amendments, Cruz sparked particular ire after being seen fist bumping Sen. Steve Daines on the Senate floor after the Republican Montanan voted against advancing the bill.
“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,” Cruz said in a statement after Tuesday’s vote.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas’ other Republican senator, also delayed its passage last week to allow floor time for amendments, but wasn’t the target of as much criticism as Cruz. Cornyn maintained his support for the bill itself.
The bill is one of the biggest expansions of veteran health care in decades, extending the amount of time veterans who served near burn pits receive enhanced Department of Veteran Affairs health care coverage and lowering the burden to get disability payments related to the toxic exposure. Burn pits were commonly used for waste disposal by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The delay in the bill’s passage led to vehement outcries from veterans, many of whom have camped outside the Capitol to demand senators vote on the package.
“No veteran who has sacrificed for our country should ever have to resort to spending the night on the Capitol steps to secure their benefits, but sadly in this case they have,” Schumer said from the Senate floor Monday. “It is unfortunate that our Republican colleagues chose to block quick passage of this bill last week, even though this is the exact same piece of legislation many of them supported in June, with one small technical fix.”
The House and Senate both voted to pass their versions of the bill on widely bipartisan terms earlier this year. In the previous Senate vote, Cornyn and Cruz voted for the bill. But when the Senate went to vote on the final legislative text, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania raised concerns over budgeting mechanisms and led a group of peers to block the bill until his amendment could get a vote. Cruz and Cornyn then joined in with other Republicans in demanding a vote on Toomey’s amendment before letting it go further. The amendment did not meet the 60-vote threshold to pass Tuesday, but Cruz still voted for the bill’s passage.
Cornyn is currently isolating with COVID-19, which barred him from voting Tuesday night because senators must be physically present to vote on the floor. But he issued a statement.
“I’m glad Majority Leader Schumer reversed his decision to block amendment votes on this landmark legislation, and I look forward to President Biden signing it into law soon,” the statement read.
Comedian Jon Stewart joined protesters in Washington in recent days, decrying the Republican moves as partisan gimmicks to hold up what should be an uncontroversial bill. Republicans remain furious over Democrats’ surprise deal on a reconciliation package that includes billions in tax credits and investments for climate and health care, which Democrats are scrambling to pass before leaving for the August recess.
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