Jon Stewart: We shouldn't have to 'lobby' Congress to help vets with respiratory illnesses

Stewart on spending bills in Congress: "They love to stick [stuff] in other [stuff]; it's a big turducken."

Updated: April 18, 2021 - 1:15am

Jon Stewart, former host of "The Daily Show," told Just the News that advocates for a bill to help war veterans who were exposed to toxins from burn pits shouldn't have to "lobby" Congress to pass it. 

Stewart pushed for passage of the same bill, the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act, in September 2020. He said at the time that war veterans who were exposed to harmful toxins during their military service are "more vulnerable" to COVID-19. 

Stewart was asked Tuesday if he thinks the Democrats should have added the bill to President Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, the second largest stimulus package in history, which passed last month. Ostensibly a COVID relief measure, the mammoth package included union pension bailouts and racially targeted farm subsidies. Democrats used budget reconciliation to pass the wide-ranging spending bill without relying on votes from Republicans. 

"It's an issue that should be addressed on its own merits," Stewart said after a news conference with a bipartisan group of lawmakers and veterans organizations in Washington. "It's the true cost of war. It's the total cost of war, and you can't send people overseas in dangerous conditions and not take care of the consequences of it when you get home.

"Down here, they love to stick sh*t in other sh*t. It's a big turducken down here. This thing goes in this thing. The veterans, we have a moral obligation to care for the consequences of their service; simple as that, and that's what we have to do. So we can talk about the political games, or maybe they should have done this first, or maybe they could have added it into this bill. This is an issue that stands on its own ... and I don't understand why we even have to lobby for it, like, this should have been done, and it should be the obligation of the VA straight off the bat."

Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), who introduced the burn pits bill in the last session of Congress, said Democrats should consider adding it to the eventual embodying legislation for Biden's American Jobs Plan, which includes infrastructure and climate change spending. The Democrats are expected to use budget reconciliation to avert a Senate filibuster and pass that $2 trillion spending plan without GOP votes as well.

"It [The American Rescue Plan] didn't address the issue of burn pits, which is an underlying reason why veterans have chronic pulmonary illnesses, and as we know, pulmonary diseases is a very high risk factor of death due to COVID-19," Ruiz said. "But your question poses a very interesting idea that should be researched in terms of the justification of using budget reconciliation with a budget resolution with a budget."

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) was asked why the Democrats didn't include the burn pits bill in the American Rescue Plan stimulus bill.

"Well, there will be other must-pass opportunities, but I think this vote deserves an up or down vote on the merits, and I think we can probably get that," she said. 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) predicted that the burn pits bill will pass.

"Ultimately, we think we can get it done," he told Just the News. "I really do. I think we have enough support in the Senate to get it passed, and I hope we will, and we should. This is a moral imperative." 

Any lawmaker opposed to the burn pits bill should be "called out by name," said Rep. Brian Fitzpatick (R-Pa.). "The press ought to hound them and ask why are you a no on this? If we do that, not only will this get passed and signed into law, it will get signed into law with record speed."

The bill would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide health benefits to veterans who were exposed to toxic hazards during their service and diagnosed with cancer, emphysema lymphoma, chronic bronchitis, granulomatous disease, pulmonary fibrosis, sarcoidosis or asthma. War veterans with cancer or other conditions currently have to provide proof that their exposure to toxins during their service is the cause of their illness in order to receive VA health benefits.