Comedian and activist Jon Stewart returned to Washington on Monday, holding a rally in front of the U.S. Capitol to prod recalcitrant Senate Republicans into finally passing a bill that would extend treatment to soldiers exposed to toxic chemicals.
“This is the lowest hanging fruit of a functioning society. Like, if we can’t do this, the rest of us have no shot,” Stewart said, depicting the stalled bill as a symptom of deepening political dysfunction. “This is the canary in the coal mine.”
“Senators lie, veterans die,” said a sign held by one of the attendees behind Stewart. The sign brandished by another simply listed the names of the 25 U.S. senators, all of them Republicans, who stymied passage last week.
Stewart hoped his presence would break the impasse before legislators left on their customary August vacation. By turns angry and exasperated, he highlighted the seemingly uncontroversial quality of the legislation. “This isn’t like the Democrats snuck in ‘abortion for all’ into a gay pride bill,” the former “Daily Show” host joked to Yahoo News after the rally was concluded.
The imperiled legislation, also known as the PACT Act, would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand health care services for service members exposed to dangerous chemicals from so-called burn pits, where garbage was incinerated, with the help of jet fuel, during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At least nine respiratory cancers are believed to be potentially caused by breathing in the particulate matter emitted by the burn pits.