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Port: Why did Democrats have to lard up the PACT act with a discretionary spending change in the first place?

If this bill is so blindingly necessary, if it's so urgent that Jon Stewart must stand before news media cameras and curse Republicans, why not just take the change in discretionary spending out of the bill, and pass the $280 billion in funding for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits?

Jon Stewart
Comedian Jon Stewart delivers an angry tirade against Republicans on July 28, 2022, after the Senate voted down the PACT Act.
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MINOT, N.D. — Republicans vote against legislation backed by Democrats, and then Democrats accuse Republicans of being cruel, heartless monsters.

It's one of the most enduring tropes in the endless soap opera that is Congress. The most recent iteration is a lot of foul-mouthed folderol about the PACT Act, a worthy bit of legislation that funds treatment for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

PACT passed in the Senate in June with 84 broadly bipartisan votes, but it came back from the House with a few tweaks and failed, with many Republicans flipping their votes.

Among them, North Dakota's own Sen. Kevin Cramer, who spoke with me about it on the Plain Talk podcast last week .

This change in votes has, predictably, prompted our liberal friends to erupt with their usual accusations of heartlessness and cruelty. Jon Stewart, a comedian who once stood near the center of American political culture but is now staring in the face of declining relevance , led the charge against Republicans with a foul-mouthed tirade, and some social media spats with Republican members of Congress .

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(warning: video contains language some readers may find offensive)

All of which has come to obscure the legislation that all these adults, with juvenile maturity levels, are shouting at one another about.

The contention from Democrats and their various apologists in the commentariat is that Republicans blocked this bill because they hate veterans, or because they're playing petty politics with Democrats, or both.

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Republicans, meanwhile, argue (as Cramer did during his interview with me) that the PACT Act contains a budgeting gimmick that has nothing to do with funds for veterans.

As currently constituted, the legislation would loosen the cap on discretionary spending by $390 billion, meaning it would be easier, as a procedural matter for Congress to spend nearly $400 billion. This is nothing to do with veterans. That additional spending could be on anything.

Democrats are right to ask why Senate Republicans who were a "yes" vote for this bill back in June didn't object to this provision then.

But that also leaves us with two possible explanations. One is that Republicans want to be cruel to veterans etc., etc. The other is that Republicans were slow on the uptake, not realizing the budget implications of raising the discretionary cap.

If we set aside for a moment the prerequisite, in these divided and hyperpartisan times, that we automatically impute to the "other side" the worst possible motivations, the latter of those two explanations seems the most likely.

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Though it's still not particularly flattering for Republicans.

They ought to be aware of what they're voting for, you know? Some Republicans did register their objections to the change in the discretionary cap back in June. More of them should have.

But then, what of the Democrats? If this bill is so blindingly necessary, if it's so urgent that Mr. Stewart must stand before news media cameras and curse Republicans, why not just take the change in discretionary spending out of the bill, and pass the $280 billion in funding for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits?

Is that really a non-starter? And if so, who is it, exactly, who is being callous?

It's fair to say that Republicans have handled this situation poorly, but if the goal really is to help our veterans, can we really say that Democrats have comported themselves any better?

Not that these arguments are going to persuade anyone at this point. Our various political avatars have weighed on in this issue, signaling to Americans on the left and the right what their attitudes should be on this issue, and there's little room left now for a rational review of the facts.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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