WASHINGTON, D.C. - Jon Stewart slammed Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul over his move to block the extension of the September 11 Victims Compensation Fund Wednesday, calling Paul’s objection “truly outrageous.”
The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously on June 12 to reauthorize the September 11 Victims Compensation Fund, guaranteeing support for sick first responders and survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks until 2090, but Republican Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee blocked the fast-track approval of the bipartisan bill in the Senate Wednesday.
Paul objected to a request by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to approve the bill by unanimous consent.Paul, R-Ky., questioned the bill's 70-year time frame and said any new spending should be offset by corresponding cuts. The government already faces a $22 trillion debt, a figure that grows every year, Paul said.
“It’s truly outrageous,” Stewart said in response to the move from Paul during an interview with Fox News on Wednesday. “And pardon me if I’m not impressed in any way with Rand Paul’s fiscal responsibility virtue signaling.”
Stewart went on to point out that Paul made no mention of the recent $1.5 trillion tax cut that added hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. deficit during his comments at the vote, a move that Stewart credits in part to Paul.
“He is a guy that put us in hundreds of billions of dollars of debt — he was the 51st vote on that cut,” Stewart reminded, “And now he’s going to tell us that a billion dollars a year over 10 years is just too much to handle?”
The fight to extend the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund has been rife with setbacks since the fund’s administrator announced that the VCF was running out of money in February.
Comedian Jon Stewart has been one of the most vocal advocates of this bill, and has become known for his impassioned pleas to and scathing criticisms of lawmakers in the fight for the protections and support of 9/11 first responders and victims.
Stewart called the sparse attendance at a June 12 House Judiciary Committee hearing "an embarrassment to the country and a stain on this institution." He later targeted McConnell for slow-walking a previous version of the legislation and using it as a "political pawn" to get other things done
On Wednesday, he went on Fox News with 9/11 first responder John Feal to criticize Paul for creating yet another obstacle to funding the bill.
“We’re not surprised by Senators Lee and Paul, this is their M.O.” Feal said. “Rand Paul got $580,000 for broken ribs. We get $250,000 for cancer. Tom Wilson, who had his tongue removed and his neck reconstructed, gets $250,000; he’ll probably die from cancer. Luis Alvarez died from cancer, he got $250,000.”
Feal then said he believes the people from Kentucky and Utah — the two states that Paul and Lee serve, respectively — deserve better.
“I think they lack humanity,” Feal said of the senators.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates the 9/11 bill would result in about $10.2 billion in additional compensation payments over 10 years, including more than $4 billion for claims already filed.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who requested to approve the bill by unanimous consent, said 9/11 first responders and their families have had "enough of political games." The legislation has 74 Senate co-sponsors, including Gillibrand, and easily passed the House last week.
The bill would extend though 2092 a victims compensation fund created after the 2001 terrorist attacks, essentially making it permanent. The $7.4 billion fund is rapidly being depleted, and administrators recently cut benefit payments by up to 70 percent.
"Our 9/11 first responders and the entire nation are watching to see if this body actually cares ... about the men and women who answered the call of duty" after the attacks, Gillibrand said.
As the World Trade Center towers began to crumble that day, "there was one group of men and women — our heroes, the bravest among us — who ran the opposite way," Gillibrand said. "They ran toward danger. They raced up towers. They went into harm's way to answer the call of duty."
In the months after the attacks, first responders cleaned up the aftermath, breathing in toxic air amid smoke, burning metal, crushed glass and electronics and other hazards.
"These heroes have since had to quit doing the jobs they love, providing for the families they love because they're too sick," Gillibrand said. "They've had to give up their income. They've had to give up their dreams and their future. They've had to face the terrifying reality that they are actually going to die because of what they did on 9/11 and the months thereafter."
She and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, also of New York, urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring up the bill as soon as Thursday. McConnell, R-Ky., has agreed to call a vote before Congress goes on its August recess.
“This is about what kind of society we have,” Stewart told Fox News. “At some point, we have to stand up for the people who have always stood up for us, and at this moment in time, maybe cannot stand up for themselves due to their illnesses and their injuries.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.