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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz voted to advance federal legislation to expand health care protections for some military veterans after facing heavy criticism for voting to delay its passage last week.
The US Senate passed legislation on Tuesday that would help provide care for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.
While several Republicans delayed passage of the bill because Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would not accept amendments, Cruz drew particular ire after he was seen punching Sen. Steve Daines on the Senate floor after Republicans in Montana voted against advancing the bill.
“Although I ultimately supported the bill because we need to take care of our veterans who have sacrificed so much to keep us safe, I am disappointed that we have not been able to come together to resolve a budget compromise that will allow Democrats in Congress to then waste another $400 billion on pork for veterans affected by burn pits. on top of the laudable funding for this bill and completely unrelated,” Cruz said after Tuesday’s vote.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, the other Republican senator from Texas, also delayed last week to allow a deadline for amendments, but he was not the target of as much criticism as Cruz. Cornyn stuck to the same bill.
The bill is one of the largest expansions of veterans’ health care in decades, extends the length of time that veterans who served near cremation pits receive enhanced Veterans Affairs Health Care coverage, and reduces the burden of obtaining disability payments related to toxic exposure. Burn pits were commonly used by the US military to dispose of waste in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The delay in the bill’s passage prompted an outcry from veterans, many of whom have camped outside the Capitol to demand that senators vote on the package.
“A veteran who has sacrificed for our country should never have to spend the night on the steps of the Capitol to secure their benefits, but unfortunately in this case they did,” Schumer said Monday from the Senate floor. “It is unfortunate that our Republican colleagues decided to block the swift passage of this bill last week, even though many of them passed the same legislation in June, with a minor technical fix.”
The House and Senate both voted to pass versions of the bill on broad 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 bill, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania raised concerns about the budget’s mechanisms and led a group of peers to block the bill until his amendments could come up for a vote. Cruz and Cornyn joined other Republicans in calling for a vote on Toomey’s amendment before going any further. The amendment failed to meet the 60-vote threshold for passage Tuesday, but Cruz still supported the bill’s passage.
Cornyn is self-isolating with COVID-19, which prevented him from voting Tuesday night because senators must be physically present to vote. But he gave a statement.
“I am pleased that 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, denouncing the Republican move as a partisan tradeoff to hold up a bill that should have been uncontroversial. Republicans remain angry over Democrats’ surprise deal on a reconciliation package that includes billions in climate and health tax credits and investments, scrambling to pass before Democrats head out for the August recess.
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