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The White House has pushed back the signing of the high-profile PACT bill by two days, after Republicans took heavy criticism for delaying the package over spending concerns.
After initially saying the bill signing would take place Monday, the White House moved the signing to Wednesday, Aug. 10.
President Biden has been in isolation due to COVID-19, but signed two bills Friday in a socially distanced outdoor event.
Veterans advocates have been pushing for passage of the PACT Act, a $278.5 billion bill that would make the federal government responsible for health care and compensation of veterans fighting the effects of toxic exposure.
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“This bill will expand access to VA health care and benefits for toxic-exposed veterans and their survivors, improve care and increase research related to toxic exposures, and provide VA with important resources to serve veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors,” the White House stated.
The president promised to sign the bill immediately once it arrived at the White House, saying the issue is personal for himself and his family.
The military has used burn pits to get rid of household trash but also more toxic substances like paint, metals, plastics and human waste. The fires burning toxic chemicals were oftentimes in proximity to where service members lived and worked overseas.
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“When they came home, many of the fittest and best trained warriors we’ve ever had were not the same; headaches, numbness, dizziness, cancer. My son Beau was one of them,” Biden said at a White House event in June.
The Senate voted 84-14 last month in favor of the PACT Act, with a majority vote in both the House and Senate. It represents the most comprehensive veterans healthcare reform to date, establishing a presumptive service connection for veterans made gravely ill after inhaling toxic fumes that hung over their bases overseas, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The bill went back to the House, which recently passed a revised version, but passage was delayed by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who argued that there already was $400 billion allocated in the discretionary spending budget, and that moving it to the mandatory spending budget would be nothing more than a “gimmick” to avoid spending caps.
Comedian Jon Stewart disputed Republican claims about the bill, insisting that “not one word” was added to the copy of the bill that was passed in an 84-14 Senate vote in June. One sentence was, however, omitted when the bill went to the House, Stewart said, but it was a provision about rural VA providers and unrelated to Republicans’ mandatory spending concerns.
“There was not one word added to the copy of the bill that this Senate passed 84-14. So that’s not a matter of opinion. That’s not a matter of me saying so. It’s a matter of record,” he said. “The delay has been long enough. It’s been 15 years. We’ve lost friends along the way, and we refuse to lose any more.”
Fox News’ Perry Chiaramonte, Liz Friden and Jennifer Griffin contributed to this report.