Tester’s Veterans Bill “Unexpectedly Blocked” by Republicans Ahead of 2024 Election
June 30, 2023
New reporting from POLITICO highlights how Senate Republicans put Tester’s package of veterans bills in limbo despite bipartisan support
BILLINGS – New reporting from POLITICO highlights how Senator Jon Tester’s package of veterans bills was “unexpectedly blocked by Republicans” – with lawmakers and veterans advocates suggesting GOP leadership blocked these important bills because they put their political agenda over veterans.
Vietnam veteran and Montana resident Mike Lawson told POLITICO: “I get tired of political games people play at the expense of the veteran,’ […] but added that Tester’s reputation for championing veterans legislation is already well known. ‘We know who’s our friend.’”
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is the lead author of a bill to increase research into cannabis for veterans. He’s also one of the Senate’s most at-risk Democrats, running in a state Donald Trump won by 16 percentage points in 2020.
Fellow Montana Sen. Steve Daines, as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is charged with ousting Tester.
The Montana Senate election and cannabis policy collided on the Senate floor in April, when a package of five veterans bills — built around Tester’s VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act — was unexpectedly blocked by Republicans. The bills were widely supported in committee and the package included legislation introduced by both Republicans and Democrats.
If the package passed, it would have made VA home loans directly available to Native Americans, made changes to improve veterans health care programs, and instructed the VA to research cannabis use for conditions like PTSD and chronic pain.
“These all came unanimously out of [the] Veterans Committee,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told POLITICO earlier this month. “Jon Tester’s in cycle, [and] Mitch McConnell probably doesn’t want to help him.”
Some lawmakers, lobbyists and advocates now suggest that the Montana Senate election increased the unforeseen opposition to the veterans package.
When Tester ran for reelection in 2018, many of his campaign ads touted his work to support a beloved constituency: veterans.
“Jon’s got our back,” a veteran says into the camera in an ad released in May 2018. To which dozens of other veterans respond: “So we’ve got his back.”
Vietnam vet Mike Lawson — a Montana resident and Tester supporter who participated in the senator’s 2018 campaign ad — says veterans in the state are paying attention to the final fate of the VA package that includes the cannabis research bill. Lawson says he knows a number of veterans in Montana who say marijuana has made a huge difference for their quality of life, and doesn’t understand why the VA wouldn’t want to do more research on it.
“I get tired of political games people play at the expense of the veteran,” [Lawson] said in an interview, but added that Tester’s reputation for championing veterans legislation is already well known. “We know who’s our friend.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), when asked in May if the Montana Senate election had any impact on the bill’s failure to advance, told POLITICO: “I don’t think we need to talk about it — everybody knows that.”
“What happened on that vote is that people actually got hurt,” said Rodgers. “In this situation, veterans [and] Native Americans … were the first casualty in this political battle.”