Republican infighting resurfaces amid effort to pass nuclear radiation compensation

Republicans’ intraparty tensions over whether to extend and expand radiation compensation for victims of U.S. nuclear weapons testing spilled out onto the Senate floor Thursday.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) sought to unanimously advance a bill to extend existing benefits for victims covered under current law, but not expand it to new victims.

He was blocked by fellow Republican Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.), who spoke out against his effort, alongside Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Luján (N.M.). The pair want to expand the measure to additional victims.

“We can’t allow access to RECA’s benefits to be held hostage during … negotiations,” Lee said in a floor speech Thursday as he tried to advance the narrower bill through unanimous consent.

He characterized this effort as a shot at “clean reauthorization,” which Hawley balked at.

“There’s nothing clean about this bill,” Hawley said. “It leaves Missouri filthy dirty with nuclear radiation.”

The bill in question is known as the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA). It was first passed in 1990 and compensates some Americans exposed to radiation from the nuclear testing program.

These benefits are slated to expire in June if the bill is not reauthorized. But not all of the victims of the U.S. nuclear program receive benefits under that law, hence the push from the lawmakers to expand it.

Hawley has confronted the leadership of his own party over the issue, particularly seeking to pressure the House to pass the expansion after it was approved by the Senate.

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