Dozens of Republican senators sparked nationwide outrage on Thursday when they voted against a bill that would expand health care coverage to veterans who experienced health problems after using burn pits to dispose of hazardous waste during wartime.
The bill — known as the PACT Act — would have expanded VA health care eligibility for affected veterans who served after the Sept. 11 attacks. But it failed on a 55 — 42 vote, with 41 Republicans voting against the measure. (Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also voted against the bill as a procedural step that will allow him to reintroduce it in the future).
As my colleague Steve Benen wrote, Republican senators overwhelmingly supported a virtually identical bill just weeks ago.
Veterans groups were furious about the vote — and rightfully so. As my colleague Steve Benen wrote, Republican senators overwhelmingly supported a virtually identical bill just weeks ago.
So why the reversal? This latest vote at least seems like it could be a protest punishing Democrats for reportedly reaching an agreement on a new spending bill focused on climate and health care.
You heard that right: Republicans may be protesting a budget they don’t like by sticking it to sick veterans.
The hypocrisy at play here reminded me of the way the GOP treated NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful kneeling protests in 2016. Right-wing lawmakers denounced the protests as disrespectful to veterans, despite the fact the protest was conceived and coordinated with a veteran.
Obviously, voting to deny health care to sick vets (and fist-bumping afterward) is obviously far more disrespectful to vets than kneeling during the anthem. But just for fun, let’s take a look at what GOP senators who blocked the burn pit bill in protest had to say about Kaepernick.
Millionaire Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (one of the aforementioned fist-bumpers) told TMZ in 2016 that it’s “sad when you see rich, spoiled athletes that don’t recognize what an incredible blessing this country is,” adding, “it’s very easy when you’re sitting there rolling in millions of dollars to disrespect this country.”
Such protests, Cruz also noted, are “inconsistent” with most Texans’ views. Don’t expect him to apply that standard to his own protest.
Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn similarly denounced NFL players and voted against sick vets this week.
“The national anthem is a source of American pride,” Blackburn said back in 2017. “Our flag is the ultimate symbol of unity — uniting all Americans under one banner as ‘Americans’ — and we should respect it and those who have and continue to defend it.” The following year, Blackburn was still harping on the issue, citing her self-proclaimed belief that we owe our “utmost respect to the men and women who defend our nation.”
It would seem Blackburn doesn’t know what “utmost” means.
Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith voted against health care for vets but derided Kaepernick’s peaceful protest. Her hypocrisy is showing once again.
And we can’t forget about Pennsylvania’s Sen. Pat Toomey, who voted against the PACT Act even though he’s not running for re-election this year. A few years ago, Toomey once said players kneeling in protest was “inappropriate.”
“What they ought to do is show their respect for the people who helped secure the country that they have.”
That hypocrisy explains why Toomey has been flamed by pro-military activists, including comedian Jon Stewart.
Republicans love draping themselves in the American flag and sidling up next to service people to perform patriotism. Thursday’s burn pit bill vote is just further evidence their “support” for vets disappears when it’s politically expedient.