WASHINGTON ― After furious lobbying by comedian Jon Stewart and the firefighters, police officers and other emergency personnel who answered the call of duty on Sept. 11, 2001, the Senate finally passed a bill Tuesday to expand a compensation fund for first responders.
Ninety-seven senators voted for the measure, while two voted against it. The bill now goes to President Donald Trump.
The bipartisan 9/11 victim compensation bill, which passed through the House earlier this month with overwhelming support, faced a delay last week after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) blocked a unanimous consent request to expedite its passage. The Kentucky Republican objected to the measure due to fiscal concerns, calling on the Senate to first debate an amendment that would offset the costs of the fund.
The bill would cost nearly $10.2 billion in the next 10 years and billions more after that, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 first responders and former host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” eviscerated Paul after he objected to the bill. The comedian accused the senator of “fiscal responsibility virtue signaling” after voting in favor of President Donald Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut in 2017, which added billions of dollars to the national deficit.
“It’s absolutely outrageous,” Stewart said. “Now he stands up at the last minute after 15 years of blood, sweat and tears from the 9/11 community to say that it’s all over. Now we’re going to balance the budget on the backs of the 9/11 first responder community.”
The Senate rejected Paul’s amendment, as well as a similar one from fellow fiscal hawk Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), before passing the bill on Tuesday. The measure would effectively make the fund permanent for first responders while providing however much money is needed to pay all eligible claims.
“While I support our heroic first responders, I can’t in good conscience vote for legislation which to my dismay remains unfunded,” Paul said in a statement, explaining his opposition to the bill. “As I have done on countless issues, including disaster relief and wall funding, I will always take a stand against borrowing more money to pay for programs rather than setting priorities and cutting waste.”
Tuesday’s vote marked the culmination of months of emotional lobbying by former first responders and victims of the 9/11 terror attacks, who made hundreds of visits to Capitol Hill offices, “trundling along with canes, wheelchairs and oxygen tanks,” as one reporter described it, to urge Congress to act.
Stewart also did his part to shame members of Congress into action. In June, during a hearing on the bill in the House, the comedian chided lawmakers on the panel for their “shameful” failure to show up.
“As I sit here today, I can’t help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting health care and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to,” Stewart said. “Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress.”
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
This post has been updated with comment from Sen. Rand Paul.