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Toomey defends delay of veterans health bill, says he will back it if amendment passes

Sen. Pat Toomey on Sunday defended his decision and that of his Republican colleagues’ last week to block the passage of a bill that aims to expand health care access to veterans exposed to burn pits.

The bill — the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act — was approved in the Senate in June by a vote of 84-14. It went back to the Senate again for a procedural vote last week and was expected to pass with its broad bipartisan support.

In a surprise effort, Republicans blocked the legislation. Toomey (R-Pa.) said he wanted to amend the bill to make technical changes in terms of the accounting of VA funds. That vote drew criticism from Democrats and veterans groups, as well as comedian Jon Stewart, who has made the passage of the legislation a special cause of his.

Defending his actions Sunday, Toomey said he’s working to amend the bill in a way that would “not change by one penny any spending on any veterans program,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

“What I’m trying to do is change a government accounting methodology that is designed to allow our Democratic colleagues to go on an unrelated $400 billion spending spree that has nothing to do with veterans and won’t be in the veterans space,” he said.

“My change, honest people acknowledge, will have no effect on the amount of money or the circumstances under which the money for veterans is being spent,” he said. “What I want to do is treat it for government accounting purposes the way we’ve always treated it for government accounting purposes.”

He added that if his amendment passes, he will vote for the bill.

On the same CNN program, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said Toomey’s delaying action was petty and unnecessary.

“In terms of what happens, in terms of amendments and everything else up there … what I’d say is, these folks have waited long enough. Let’s just get it done,” he said. “I think they should just get on with it, have the vote.”

McDonough said the accounting changes that Toomey is seeking could harm veterans’ care. “I can’t in good conscience do that, because the outcome of that will be rationing of care for vets, which is something I just can’t sign up for,” he said.

Burn pits have been used by the U.S. military to dispose waste at military sites outside the United States. The smoke from those disposal sites has been seen to cause long-term respiratory illness in the exposed soldiers.

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Stewart expressed cynicism about the Republicans’ response, saying it was purely a power move.

“We’ve been through this with the 9/11 first responders,” he said.

“What Toomey’s amendment wants to do is make sure that our sick and dying veterans have the pleasure that our 9/11 first responders at Ground Zero had of having to come back to Washington, hat in hand, riddled with cancer, and march through the halls of the Hill begging for money every year.”

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