RECA supporters face setback after House omits compensation from defense bill
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Outrage stirred after House leaders gutted compensation for New Mexico downwinders and uranium workers from the national defense bill.
After years of fighting hand-in-hand to get compensation, the Tularosa Downwinders and other advocates believed this was their year.
The summer blockbuster film “Oppenheimer” heightened awareness of the world’s first nuclear test in New Mexico. Afterward, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., put forth a heavy push to pass the compensation.
It worked, as the Senate voted to include the compensation in the National Defense Authorization Act.
Once it headed to the Republican-controlled House, opposition arose.
“They wanted us to make sure that there were we brought the cost down, which we did,” said U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, D-N.M.
Rep. Leger Fernandez said they found other ways to pay for the compensation. That included bringing generic drugs to market.
The congresswoman said they didn’t accept that, knocking the compensation off of the final bill.
Sen. Lujan described this as “an injustice.” U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez said “it’s truly a shame” it did not make the final bill after efforts to persuade House leaders.
Tina Cordova, who has made this fight her life’s work for decades, echoed this sentiment.
“It’s just shockingly immoral. We had much higher hopes for this Congress,” Cordova said.
As the executive director of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, the omission disappointed Cordova – but she isn’t giving up.
After 18 years, a bill to include New Mexico Downwinders in the RECA made it through a chamber of Congress.
“I think this has been a boost to us because we know it’s possible. And I think that we need to make sure that we further engage with the Republican leadership in Congress so that they understand that this is not an issue associated with partisanship. Exposure to radiation affects the Democrat and the Republican alike,” Cordova said.
Their efforts may still win out very soon. Congress still needs to pass two government funding bills by early next year.
“Those are two opportunities where we will seek to have this as an amendment,” Rep. Leger Fernandez said.
The deadlines for the appropriations bills are Jan. 19 and Feb. 2.
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