Fact Check: Is Jon Stewart Correct About Toxic Burn Pit Bill Changes?

Comedian Jon Stewart excoriated senators recently over their delay to a bill designed to provide healthcare, compensation and benefits to the veterans that suffered injuries through toxic pit burns.

The bill, which was approved in June 2022, was struck down by the Senate in July, with concerns that a "budgetary trick" had been added to it.

This led to a furious exchange between Stewart and GOP senators over the delays to its passage, including a video rebuttal posted by the former Daily Show host.

Jon Stewart
Jon Stewart has firmly criticized the decision by the U.S. Senate to halt the passage of the PACT Act, which intends to help veterans harmed by toxic burn pits. Pictured here, Jon Stewart testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. Zach Gibson/Getty Images

The Claim

On July 29, 2022 Jon Stewart posted a response on Twitter to a video of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), in which the Texas senator claimed the toxic burn pit bill (the PACT Act) wasn't approved by the Senate because "the Democrats played a budgetary trick, which is they took $400 billion in discretionary spending and shifted it to mandatory."

Stewart said that what Cruz described was "inaccurate" and that Cruz was "pretending this is some new thing that the Democrats pulled out, stuck into the bill and snuck it past one Ted Cruz" and that it had "been there the whole f***ing time."

He later states that when the bill was sent to the Senate in June 2022 "it actually got 84 votes," enough for it to pass, including one from Cruz himself, and "has not had had one word added to it."

The video attached to Stewart's tweet, which has been viewed more than 8 million times, contains strong language throughout.

The Facts

The PACT Act for veterans was introduced to provide healthcare for millions of military veterans exposed to toxic burn pits during their service.

A Senate reading of the bill in June 2022 was passed with an 84-14 vote. It was sent back to the House and returned with minor amendments.

It was then returned to the Senate in July 2022 but a cloture vote prevented it from passing for presidential approval.

Stewart points this out in his video, in which he says: "The bill that passed the Senate, 84-14 on June 16 has not had one word added to it, by Democrats or spending fairies or anybody else. It's the same f***ing bill."

Arguments about the bill's spending parameters caused senators, they say, to pause its clearance.

However, one of Stewart's central claims was that the bill has "not had had one word added to it."

This is true. Between the bill originally passed by the Senate in June (see here) and the version rejected in July (see here) only minor changes can be found, which do not appear to alter the substance of the bill, including funding.

A section on non-taxable benefits was cut but nothing was added to it.

A side-by-side comparison of the two versions of the bill show only a few alterations and none that change its scope.

Cruz suggested that a change was made to previous versions of the bill amounting to a "budgetary trick," whereby the spending was changed from discretionary to mandatory, a claim that may have some merit.

Yet whatever the political argument behind it, Stewart is right to claim that nothing changed between bills voted on in the last two months. The mandatory spending agreements were the same and nothing else meaningful was altered.

This "budgetary trick" wasn't addressed in the Senate when the bill first passed in June.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) has suggested an amendment to the bill that would cap the amount of mandatory spending available per year.

The amendment states: "Any amounts appropriated to the Fund for a fiscal year in excess of the amount specified under subsection (c)(2) for that fiscal year shall be scored as discretionary budget authority and outlays for any estimate of an appropriations Act."

In a statement, Toomey said: "The PACT Act as written includes a budget gimmick that would allow $400 billion of current law spending to be moved from the discretionary to the mandatory spending category. This provision is completely unnecessary to achieve the PACT Act's stated goal of expanding health care and other benefits for veterans."

While the bill was eventually passed by the Senate on August 2, Stewart was right in that "not one word" was added between the votes in June and July 2022.

Newsweek has contacted Jon Stewart, Ted Cruz and Pat Toomey for comment.

The Ruling

Fact Check - True


Jon Stewart was correct to say that nothing significant changed in the bill, or was added to it, between the June 2022 and July 2022 versions, as a comparison between the two documents shows. Republican senators have argued that, during the bill's history, changes were made to how the spending would be classified. Ultimately, they still approved the bill in June.

FACT CHECK BY Newsweek's Fact Check team