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U.S. House speaker reverses on radiation compensation bill

Operation Buster-Jangle – Dog test — with troops participating in exercise Desert Rock I. It was the first U.S. nuclear field exercise conducted on land; troops shown are a mere 6 miles from the blast at the Nevada test site in 1951. (Credit: Nevada Current)

Allison Kite, Missouri Independent
May 29, 2024

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson’s office on Wednesday scrapped a proposal to extend a compensation program for victims of radiation exposure without expanding it to thousands of Americans across nine states.

In a statement that came less than four hours after Johnson’s office said a proposal to expand the program was too expensive, a spokesperson said Republican leadership had decided not to bring the bill up for a vote next week. The statement said the decision came after discussions with U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, a Republican from the St. Louis suburbs.

Wagner said in a statement she was glad Republican leaders “listened to my concerns and those of my constituents and pulled the floor vote on this misguided proposal.”

“We’re going to keep fighting for expansion…so Missourians impacted by radiation get the support and compensation they deserve,” Wagner said.

The existing Radiation Exposure Compensation Act expires in less than two weeks, and as the deadline nears, federal lawmakers have been caught between the need to extend the program to keep it available for people who already qualify and pressure to expand it to cancer patients from St. Louis to the Navajo Nation.

Members of Missouri’s Congressional delegation decried Johnson’s plan to extend the program without expanding it. Early Wednesday afternoon, Johnson’s spokesperson said Republican leaders were “committed to ensuring the federal government fulfills its existing obligations to Americans exposed to nuclear radiation.”

“Unfortunately, the current Senate bill is estimated to cost $50-60 billion in new mandatory spending with no offsets and was supported by only 20 of 49 Republicans in the Senate,” the spokesperson said.

It’s unclear after leadership’s reversal whether a vote on an expanded program will be held before the law expires.

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, or RECA, originally passed by Congress in 1990, offers compensation to uranium miners and civilians who were downwind of nuclear bomb testing in Arizona, Utah and Nevada. It expires June 10, and for months, advocates and members of Congress — especially from Missouri and New Mexico — have been lobbying Congress to expand it.

U.S. senators have twice passed legislation that would expand RECA, but it hasn’t gone anywhere in the House of Representatives. The legislation would add the remaining parts of Arizona, Utah and Nevada to the program and bring coverage to downwinders in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Guam. It would also offer coverage for residents exposed to radioactive waste in Missouri, Tennessee, Alaska and Kentucky.

This story was originally published in the Missouri Independent and is published here under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.