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Montana politics, elections and legislative news.

Daines votes against expanded benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits

Senator Steve Daines (R) - Montana
U.S. Senate
Senator Steve Daines (R) - Montana

A bill to expand benefits to veterans exposed to toxic burn pit smoke failed a key vote in the U.S. Senate this week. Republicans are raising concerns about levels of proposed federal spending.

The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, or PACT Act, failed to clear a procedural vote putting its future into question.

Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey argued on the congressional floor it would create hundreds of billions of dollars in unrelated spending.

Montana Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines previously supported the bill but sided with Toomey and others Wednesday to block the burn pit legislation over concerns of excess federal spending.

Daines’ office tells MTPR that Democrats must either invest in veterans health care or a separate spending package revived this week that includes key points of the Biden Administration’s economic agenda and climate goals. Both are expected to come with price tags of hundreds of billions of dollars.

Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs who helped craft the bill, says the two issues are completely unrelated.

He thinks the burn pit bill will get another Senate vote.

"But we’ve got to have the votes, too, in order to get it done. It may be early next week. It may be the end of next week. It may be in September. I don’t know,” Tester says.

According to data from the VA, approximately 66,000 people — two-thirds of Montana’s veterans — were likely exposed to toxic substances during their service.

Under the proposal, 23 illnesses, including hypertension, would be presumed related to burn pit exposure when it comes to providing disability compensation.

Edward O'Brien is Montana Public Radio's Associate News Director.