The House moved to permanently fund a program aimed at compensating first responders still suffering effects from the 2001 terrorist attacks on Friday.
The bill passed with an overwhelming bipartisan 402-12 vote. Only a handful of Republicans and newly-minted independent Rep. Justin Amash voted against it.
“Because of our heroes, 9/11 is etched in our nation’s history, not only as a day of profound loss and tragedy, but also a day of powerful unity and resilience,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the House floor. “On September 11th and its aftermath, our brave first responders were there for us. We must always be there for them.”
The 9/11 victims compensation fund has doled out financial support for medical expenses and lost wages to more than 20,00 people suffering from injuries and illnesses related to the attacks in Washington D.C., New York and Pennsylvania.
Though it was initially funded until next year, a surge of claims depleted resources to the point where compensation would have to be cut up to 70%.
The fund was initially established in 2011 by the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Zadroga, a New York City Police Department officer who died in 2006, was the first person to have his illness linked to the 2001 attacks.
On Monday, Democrats added the names of firefighter Ray Pfeifer and police Detective Luis Alvarez, who both died this year from cancer related to the terrorist attacks, to the reauthorization bill.
Mr. Alvarez recently testified before Congress, urging them to quickly pass the bill, just 17 days before his death.
Comedian John Stewart, a vocal advocate for the 9/11 first responders, sharply castigated lawmakers last month for what he saw as a lack of urgency.
On Friday, Mr. Stewart took aim at those that balked at the program’s price tag.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the fund will cost $10.2 billion over the next ten years, which Mr. Stewart said shouldn’t be an issue.
“It’s very difficult to watch a House and a Senate, with a trillion dollar deficit, try to balance that budget of $10.2 million on the backs of 9/11 victims and first responders,” he said, flanked by first responders and members of the House.
“This should be as simple as just refilling its credit card,” he added.
All eyes now look to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not set a firm date for a vote.
“This is the semi-finals. The finals are two weeks from now in the Senate,” Mr. Stewart said. “I fully expect that by August 2 we will have our final signing ceremony.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer called on Mr. McConnell to act quickly for the first responders, and urged him “not let other Republicans push them to the back burner like the last time.”
Mr. McConnell, however, said nothing about this legislation is partisan.
“The first responders who rushed into danger on September 11th, 2001 are the very definition of American heroes and patriots,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement. “The Senate has never forgotten the Victim Compensation Fund and we aren’t about to start now.”
“We will consider this important legislation soon,” he said.
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