‘Indefensible’: Josh Hawley channels Jimmy Stewart in fight to get atomic bomb-era radiation victims compensation

In something of a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington moment, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley is pledging to keep hope of compensation alive for victims of atomic bomb-era radiation in Missouri and beyond, despite congressional leaders tossing it aside.

Hawley has championed reauthorizing the expiring 1990 Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) and expanding it to include, for the first time, victims in the St. Louis region sickened by  radioactive waste left over from World War II and Cold War-era nuclear bomb production.

But his RECA bill, which had passed both chambers, was stripped from the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by top House and Senate leaders before the NDAA’s passage on Thursday.

Much as Jimmy Stewart’s title character in Mr. Smith, an undaunted Hawley is battling leadership that has turned its back on his cause. Hawley says he’s nonetheless determined to attach his bill to some other one that passes before Congress goes home for the year.

“Listen, we are going to get this program over the finish line,” Hawley told The Heartlander in an interview Thursday. “We’re going to get compensation for the people of Missouri. As long as it takes – I will fight as long as it takes until we get it done. We will prevail in the end. 

“And we need to prevail quickly, because for 50 years Missouri’s been waiting, and pretty soon hundreds of thousands of Americans are going to lose all of their compensation – other nuclear victims all around the country – because this program is expiring. So, I will fight on this as long as it takes. It’s my No. 1 legislative priority. And believe me, I’m going to make the Senate vote and vote and vote and vote until we get this done.”

Hawley is dumbfounded the bill was stripped from the defense act, having brought a number of Missouri’s own radiation victims and their poignant stories into the news and onto Capitol Hill. Others have cited the potential costs of the compensation, but Hawley notes the moral obligation of compensating the federal government’s innocent, and arguably heroic, victims.

Moreover, he points to the many billions going out the Capitol door to Ukraine and others.

“I just can’t believe there’s any opposition to this,” he says. “I mean, you have people in our state who have been poisoned by their government. They’ve done nothing wrong. They’re the ones who’ve been poisoned. All they’re asking for is the government make it right.

“And now you’ve got these D.C. insiders who say, ‘Oh, no, we just can’t do that. We don’t have time for that. We have more important priorities. We’ve got to pay the defense contractors who write us campaign checks. We’ve got to give money to Ukraine because they deserve it.’ The people of Missouri, nothing; Ukraine, billions.

“This is absurd. It is absurd. It is indefensible. I’ve yet to hear a defense of it. And that’s why I say I’m going to make the Senate go on record on this over and over and over until we get it done.”


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