RECA expansion advocates signal frustration after meeting with Speaker’s staff

RECA expansion advocates signal frustration after meeting with Speaker’s staff

Advocates for the expansion of federal benefits to Americans exposed to radiation by the federal government expressed disappointment after a meeting with staffers for Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) this week, saying they believe the Speaker hopes to wait them out and deliver a smaller bill.

On a conference call with advocates for the expansion of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), a person who met with Johnson’s team said Johnson appeared to hope for an endgame in which the advocates split over an expansion for the law, which has passed the Senate with a filibuster-proof majority, and a simple extension, which had been slated for a House vote before it was pulled from the schedule without explanation.

In conversations with Johnson’s office, “it felt like their hope was that you all would want an extension at some point and that would be their out,” the person added. In the meantime, they said, Johnson’s office signaled no action on the Senate-passed bill is imminent.

The Speaker “wants the temperature to come down” but “is feeling the heat” on the issue, the person added.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), the co-sponsor of the Senate bill, has been sharply critical of Johnson for attempting to schedule the narrower extension and for frequently invoking concerns about cost in the negotiation process. Johnson told The Hill last week that negotiations to bring the larger bill to the House floor are ongoing.

The authorization for RECA, first passed in 1990, officially expired earlier this month following a two-year extension passed in 2022 and signed by President Biden. The law provides financial compensation and medical screening for those downwind of World War II-era nuclear testing, as well as those exposed to radiation through uranium mining or contamination by uranium processing in areas like St. Louis’s Coldwater Creek.

Advocates for expansion have lobbied intensely as the deadline approaches, frequently traveling to Washington at personal expense in hopes of continuing the program.

Other advocates on the call dismissed the idea of pulling back from lobbying or accepting a flat extension.

“The minute we let up, they’ll just forget us,” one said. “This isn’t something to let up about — they killed us.”

A person familiar with the discussions and with Johnson’s thinking said Johnson’s office remains concerned about bypassing committees without certainty that the bill would have the votes in the GOP house, noting that despite its passage in the Senate it was supported by less than half of the Republican caucus.

The person, who asked to speak on background, also pointed to the $50 billion-$60 billion in new mandatory spending without offsets included in the bill.

Updated at 5:34 p.m.

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