Analysis: Here’s what threatens to dig burns helps vets

In summary: “Burch pits have been used to incinerate all kinds of waste, hazardous materials, and chemical compounds at military sites across Iraq and Afghanistan. 86 percent of veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan say they experienced burns, according to a survey by the nonprofit organization American Veterans.” in Iraq and Afghanistan for the year 2020.

The GOP leader blocking passage of scalding legislation is Senator Pat Tommy of Pennsylvania, a budget hawk who retired from the Senate and thus no longer faces voters.

His problem is that the versions of the bill that were considered earlier this year assume that funds for the care of scorching pits will be allocated in the regular appropriations process each year by the Senate.

The version senators are currently considering would essentially make the fund permanent and put it in the “mandatory” spending category, which means it’s guaranteed forever, but it might also create some desirable space in the discretionary budget.

Tommy’s specific concern is Section 805 of the text of a bill that is too long. With the title “War Toxicity Risk Cost Fund,” the language states that “no amount earmarked for the Fund in fiscal year 2023 or any subsequent fiscal year in accordance with this section shall be accounted for as budgetary discretion and expenditure or as direct expenditure…”

Tommy does not apologize for opposing this amendment and standing in the way of the bill.

He explained his stance on “State of the Union” on Sunday, in a long conversation with CNN’s Jake Tapper.

“We spend so much money, to use it — to hide behind a bill for veterans, the chance of going on a $400 billion unrelated spending spree is wrong,” Tommy said.

He worries that by shifting the burn pit fund from discretionary spending to mandatory spending, it will free up $400 billion of space on discretionary spending ledgers that lawmakers will use for something else.

“Now when you create that big hole, guess what happens to that big hole,” Tommy said on the Senate floor last month. “Filled with spending on who knows what. That’s what’s going on here.”

It may be a valid ache, but a bill to help veterans who suffered burns during the war is an embarrassing place to take a stand.

It’s even more embarrassing because the 25 Republicans who voted for an earlier version of the bill are now standing in his way.

What do veterans say?

Veterans protesting around the clock on Capitol Hill argue that the wait is too long. They want to pass the bill now. They are concerned that if the spending is not made part of the mandatory budget, it may be excluded in the future.

Matt Zeller, a major in the US Army Reserve and advisor to US veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan, told CNN from Capitol Hill that his activist group knows about veterans in desperation today.

“When people get sick from these crabs, they have to mortgage their homes just to survive,” he said. “You know, people think that’s covered by the VA — it’s not. And this law will fix that for the more than 3.5 million of us who get burns.”

What is the response to Tommy’s complaint?

Supporters of the bill say Tommy sees a mirage.

“If you look at the $400 billion bill he’s talking about, you won’t see it,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dennis McDonough told Tapper after Tommy appeared.

McDonough said Tommy’s approach would set an annual cap on how much the fund could go, potentially ending the fund after 10 years and possibly also requiring a withholding of veterans seeking care after suffering burns.

“If his estimates are wrong about what we’ll spend in any given year, that means we may have to legalize veterans care,” McDonough said of Tommy.

What is the subtext here?

Republicans feel Democrats are on the verge of using reconciliation — a very different budget gimmick that both sides have used in recent years — to pass health care and climate legislation.
A deal among Democrats on health and climate legislation was reached at the last minute with Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. It was announced after Republicans helped pass a bipartisan bill to support the US semiconductor industry.

Lawmakers of all stripes want to finish their work and get out on the campaign trail for the rest of August, as the November midterm elections are fast approaching.

possible way out

Republicans can bow to public pressure to allow a vote on the measure, which has plenty of support for its passage.

Democrats can bow to pressure from Republicans to allow consideration of the amendments and possibly change the budget language in the bill.

Or, neither side twists and dies burn pit law.

Both sides want the law passed, eventually. Republicans probably won’t mind if it takes a little longer and further complicates Democrats’ other priorities.

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