It seemed like a smooth path for the veterans’ benefits bill.
The bipartisan legislation would extend health care benefits to veterans exposed to toxic burn pits while serving overseas. The initial bill passed the Senate last month with 34 Republicans joining every single Democrat in favor. Veterans’ groups planned a news conference for Thursday, which was widely expected to be a declaration of victory.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) insisted that there was no connection between the two events ― he said he was concerned about the bill’s funding ― but it was hard to ignore the sudden turnaround for so many Republicans who seemed humiliated at being caught off-guard by the Democratic deal.
“This is total bullshit. This is the worst form of over-politicization I’ve literally ever seen,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a sponsor of the veterans legislation, said Thursday.
McConnell initially thought he had gotten the best of Democrats. He said Republicans wouldn’t go along with a bipartisan bill to boost computer chip production in the United States ― a priority for the Biden administration ― if Democrats revived their “Build Back Better” agenda.
It didn’t look like McConnell had anything to worry about ― at first. In mid-July, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he wouldn’t support any new climate spending or tax hikes on the wealthy because he was very worried about inflation. Democrats figured their grand ambitions were dead.
And on Wednesday, the Senate passed the computer chips bill with the backing of McConnell and 16 other Republicans.
But just hours later, Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced they had reached a deal on a sweeping $740 billion package to increase taxes on the wealthy and invest in climate change and health care while also reducing the deficit.
And in a smart framing shift, they were calling it the Inflation Reduction Act. Under Senate rules, this “reconciliation” bill can pass with just a majority of senators, meaning Democrats don’t need the cooperation of any Republicans ― as long as all of their members stick together.
Republicans, of course, were furious at being outfoxed.
“It was obviously a double-cross by Joe Manchin,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said Wednesday evening on Fox News. “Just two weeks ago, he said he wasn’t going to support a bill like this.”
“They stiffed us on this,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the chamber’s second-ranking Republican, told reporters.
In a call with reporters Thursday, Manchin insisted he wasn’t trying to trick Republicans.
“There was no malice intended whatsoever,” he said. “We had a bill that was almost completed, we were able to get it completed by Wednesday, so because of Wednesday, that means we can go into reconciliation by next Wednesday and be done before we leave” on Aug. 6.
But military veterans may not be the only victims of these Republicans’ hurt feelings. They may also take out their anger on same-sex couples.
A bipartisan group of senators has been trying to gain support for legislation that would codify marriage equality. The issue took on urgency when the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning abortion rights and conservative Justice Clarence Thomas said he would also like other issues, including same-sex marriage, to be reconsidered by the court.
But on Thursday, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) ― one of the backers of the same-sex marriage legislation ― said she now expects it will be harder for her to convince her GOP colleagues to sign on.
“I just think the timing could not have been worse, and it came totally out of the blue,” she said, adding, “After we just had worked together successfully on gun safety legislation, on the CHIPs bill, it was a very unfortunate move that destroys the many bipartisan efforts that are underway.”
“Just so we’re clear here ― Republicans screwed over sick veterans yesterday and are threatening gay & interracial couples today all because...Democrats are doing their jobs and passing extremely popular legislation,” tweeted Jim Messina, who served as President Barack Obama’s deputy White House chief of staff. “Absolutely disgraceful. Total loser shit.”