WASHINGTON — After an impasse with a South Carolina senator was broken, the Senate passed a historic bill Wednesday by unanimous consent that would help thousands of sick Marine veterans and their families who were exposed to contaminated water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Sens. Patty Murray, a Washington state Democrat who's the head of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, and Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, brokered the deal on the Senate floor moments before she was expected to force his hand by publicly calling for a unanimous-consent vote on the measure.
Instead, she announced that they'd reached a "gentlemen's agreement" on changes DeMint had been seeking in the bill.
"These families have waited for decades to get the assistance that they need and should not be forced to wait any longer," Murray said from the Senate floor.
DeMint said he always supported the "underlying bill," but thought there weren't enough safeguards to prevent fraud by those whose illnesses weren't due to contaminated water.
"The modification would make sure the veterans who deserve these benefits get them and they're not taken advantage of by fraud from others who don't deserve it," he said from the floor.
Congressional aides said the House might take up and pass the bill in the next couple of weeks. It could be on President Barack Obama's desk by the end of the summer.
The measure is expected to help as many as 750,000 veterans and their families who were exposed to drinking water that was poisoned with trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, benzene and vinyl chloride.