The bill providing compensation to 9/11 responders, which easily passed the House last week, stalled in the Senate Wednesday, as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) objected to an attempt to pass the legislation by unanimous consent.
The background: The $7.375 billion fund was created in 2011 to provide financial aid to people who have developed diseases linked to exposure to toxic debris from the 9/11 attacks. As of February, the fund had paid $5 billion to more than 21,000 claimants.
The issue: The fund is running out of money and it still has about 19,000 unpaid claims, The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett explains. Under current law, the deadline for filing a claim is in December 2020, and the special master overseeing the victim compensation fund announced earlier this year that pending claims submitted before February 1 would be reduced by 50% while claims submitted later would be reduced by 70%. The new bipartisan legislation, which has 74 co-sponsors in the Senate, would extend the program through the year 2092 at an estimated cost of $10.2 billion for the first decade.
The objections: Paul said the bill’s spending should be offset elsewhere in the budget, and the senator’s office said he is proposing cutting $2 billion a year from programs including agriculture, housing and mandatory spending, Barrett reports:
“Paul said he objected because any program that would last decades ‘should be offset by cutting spending that’s less valuable. We need, at the very least, to have this debate,’ he said, adding that he would offer an amendment on the cost of the bill when it reaches the Senate floor.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) also has placed a hold on the legislation, according to advocates.”
Both senators said they aren’t trying to hold up the bill, but want votes on amendments. Lee said that he just wants to make sure the 9/11 fund has proper oversight to prevent fraud and abuse, and on Thursday he suggested funding the program for 10 years rather than the seven decades approved by the House. Lee said that his amendment would provide $10.18 billion over 10 years, “the exact same amount the Congressional Budget Office estimated the program will need.”
The response: Former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, who has advocated for 9/11 responders, was among those blasting Paul. Speaking to Fox News, Stewart called the senator’s objection “absolutely outrageous” and accused Paul of trying to “balance the budget on the backs of the 9/11 first responder community.” Stewart also noted that Paul had supported the GOP tax cuts, which are projected to add $1.9 trillion to the national debt over 10 years.
"You’ll pardon me if I’m not impressed in any way by Rand Paul’s fiscal responsibility virtue signaling," Stewart said. “He is a guy who put us in hundreds of billions of dollars in debt…. And now he’s going to tell us that a billion dollars a year over 10 years is just too much for us to handle? You know, there are some things that they have no trouble putting on the credit card, but somehow when it comes to the 9/11 first responder community—the cops, the firefighters, the construction workers, the volunteers, the survivors—all of a sudden we’ve got to go through this.”
The bottom line: Democratic Sens. Kristen Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer of New York said Thursday they had reached an agreement with Paul and Lee to bring up the bill for a full vote by next Wednesday.