After a blistering Capitol Hill testimony by first responders and comedian Jon Stewart, in which he lambasted members of Congress for their lack of compassion in providing necessary funding for the health care needs of 9/11 responders, the House has voted to permanently reauthorize the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund through 2092. The vote total was 402 to 12.
The fund aimed to provide necessary financial support for the thousands who suffered serious medical issues, including a spate of cancer diagnoses.
Congress passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act in 2010, over opposition from some Republicans who balked at its $7 billion price tag. The act was reauthorized in 2015 for 90 years. But a portion of the law — the Victim Compensation Fund — was only funded for five years, through the end of 2020.
The measure was brought back into the limelight after Stewart's testimony last month, during which Stewart at times broke down in tears, shouting at the lawmakers and calling them "shameful."
"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," said Stewart.
At a press conference ahead of the vote, Stewart told reporters, "It's very difficult to watch a House and Senate with a trillion dollar deficit try and balance that budget of $10.2 billion over 10 years on the backs of 9/11 victims and first responders."
"Don't be nuts here, this is necessary it is urgent, and it is morally right," he added.
The bill was named after first responders who passed away from health complications related to the 2001 attacks, including Luis Alvarez, who died of cancer earlier this month. Alvarez, a former NYPD detective and 9/11 responder, testified before the House panel alongside Stewart shortly before his death.
"This fund isn't a ticket to paradise, it's to provide our families with care," said Alvarez. "You all said you would never forget. Well, I'm here to make sure that you don't," Alvarez said to a room of loud applause.
The bill now heads to the Senate --that he would put the bill on the floor for a vote in August.
"The first responders who rushed into danger on September 11th, 2001 are the very definition of American heroes and patriots," McConnell said in a statement shortly after the vote: "The Senate has never forgotten the Victim Compensation Fund and we aren't about to start now. Nothing about our shared goal to provide for these heroes is remotely partisan. We will consider this important legislation soon."
Rebecca Kaplan contributed to this report.