WASHINGTON (WKRN) – Tennessee’s Republican senators have said “We must protect and care for our veterans every day,” and “I will stand with our veterans 120%,” but both voted last week against a bill to help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits and Agent Orange.
They’re expected to have another opportunity to vote on the PACT Act this week.
The bill expands healthcare coverage and disability payments for more than three million veterans.
It passed the Senate in June with support from Senator Marsha Blackburn and Senator Bill Hagerty.
“I just voted in favor of the PACT Act,” Hagerty tweeted in June. “We owe our freedoms to the selfless sacrifices of our brave men & women in uniform, past & present.”
When the bill came up for a vote again last week after a minor technical change in the House, both Blackburn and Hagerty voted against it. The bill failed without the support of 41 Republicans.
One explanation for Republicans’ sudden reversal, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said, was retaliation after Democrats unexpectedly reached a deal on a climate change bill.
Some Republicans, despite their previous support of the veteran bill, now said it includes a “budget gimmick” that allows spending unrelated to veterans.
Asked to explain Hagerty’s latest vote against the bill, his office indicated he would change his vote again.
“His procedural vote last week was to allow for continued debate to improve the bill,” a spokesperson said, even though he voted in favor of the bill in June. “He looks forward to supporting its passage, as he did in June.”
A statement from Senator Blackburn’s office did not explain why her vote changed. It also didn’t explicitly say how she’d vote this week.
“Senator Blackburn looks forward to continuing to support veterans through this bill,” a spokesperson said, despite her vote against the bill last week. “[Senator Blackburn] wants to ensure we are not providing false hope to those that put their lives on the line to defend our country.”
Veteran activists were in Washington on Thursday, expecting to celebrate the bill’s passage.
After its unexpected failure, comedian Jon Stewart said, “We’re gonna get it done. … You don’t tell their cancer to take a recess, tell their cancer to stay home and go visit their families. This disgrace, if this is America first, America is [expletive].”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he plans to hold a new vote for the bill this week.
UPDATE: Since this article was published, Senator Blackburn said she “intends to vote for the bill again.”