Jon Stewart’s latest impassioned plea to help 9/11 first responders sickened by the attack is giving the issue new urgency in Washington. Dozens of police, firefighters and others joined Stewart at an emotional Capitol Hill hearing Tuesday where the former “Daily Show” host blasted Congress for allowing a fund that was set up to pay for their health care run short of money.
“I can’t help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is … a filled room of 9/11 first responders and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress. Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak to no one … shameful,” Stewart said at the outset of his remarks.
Stewart has seen funding for these victims get held up before and he’s worried it will happen again. Congress didn’t pass the bill on the first try but four years ago allotted $7.4 billion to last through 2020. But there were so many claims — from 22,000 people who got sick after serving at ground zero — that the money has almost run out and earlier this year payouts started getting slashed in half.
Many lawmakers were unaware of that and Stewart was clearly looking to redirect attention to the issue. And to the fact that there is a bill members could act on that would ensure the fund can pay benefits for the next 70 years. Democratic Committee Chair Jerry Nadler, said his committee would vote on an extension Wednesday.
There’s a lot of bipartisan support even from fiscal conservatives who have balked at the price tag in the past. Cordes asked one key player, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, if he supports replenishing the victims fund. He said he does.