Senate finally agrees to more help for 9/11 survivors
The Senate voted this week to rescue a depleted federal fund aimed at helping emergency workers and other 9/11 survivors, breaking a bitter impasse on Capitol Hill. The 97-2 vote comes five months after the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund’s administrator said that 20,000 new claims from 2016 to 2018 would force major cuts in awards. Some 32,000 first responders have been diagnosed with respiratory and digestive tract illnesses caused by toxic dust at Ground Zero; 9,000 have developed cancer, and more than 1,000 have died of causes linked to their 9/11 efforts. The legislation, which passed the House last month, extends funding to 2092, providing $10.2 billion to pay claims in the next 10 years. Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah dissented, citing spending concerns. President Trump is expected to sign the bill.
The House and Senate votes rekindled a long-running partisan fight ignited when the fund was reopened in 2011 and then replenished in 2015. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) wore a firefighter’s jacket for months to push for a House vote. When Paul blocked the bill last week, comedian Jon Stewart, who has championed the first responders’ fight for years on TV and, recently, in congressional hearings, branded his actions an “abomination.” Said retired NYPD Detective Luis Alvarez, before he died from Ground Zero–related cancer last month at 53, “This fund is not a ticket to paradise. It is there to provide for our families when we can’t.”
What the columnists said
Stewart has “gotten conspicuously angry in public twice,” said Charles Pierce in Esquire.com. The first time, he got Crossfire canceled. This time, “he got this bill passed.” But he had assistance, not from the “typical group of professional lobbyists” but from “sick and dying people asking for help.” It took their relentless activism to get the Senate to act. If it had been up to Paul, they would have been left to “choke on their own blood.”
Paul is being reviled when he should be applauded, said Brad Polumbo in WashingtonExaminer.com. “We’re now approaching $1 trillion deficits during a boom economy.” It’s reasonable for him to propose an amendment to offset the extra spending with cuts elsewhere. But he’s become the target of “a vicious smear” suggesting he’s single-handedly trying to deny our heroes health care. Paul’s endgame was never killing this bill. But it’s symbolic of Washington, D.C.’s profligacy that even asking the question where the money will come from makes you a villain.
The Senate stepped up, said the New York Daily News in an editorial. Now only President Trump’s signature remains. He’ll sign it because, as a New Yorker, the president “knows well the price the heroes have paid” for their Ground Zero service. They roamed in a cloud of pulverized computer equipment, steel, electrical wiring, asbestos, glass, and concrete. Within months, “once hearty men grew wizened and frail.” Many died. “It was their last sacrifice for their city,” and America is right to repay it.