Senate Overwhelmingly Passes 9/11 First Responder Bill - NBC Bay Area
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Senate Overwhelmingly Passes 9/11 First Responder Bill

The bill extends through 2092 a victims' compensation fund established after the 2001 attacks

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    Senate Overwhelmingly Passes 9/11 Victims Compensation Bill

    The Senate overwhelmingly passed the bill for the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund until 2092 on Tuesday, much to the relief of first responders, victims and their families. NBC 4 New York's Andrew Siff reports.

    (Published Tuesday, July 23, 2019)

    The Senate voted Tuesday to extend funding for first responders suffering health problems as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

    In a 97-2 vote, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the bill that would effectively make the victims’ compensation fund for 9/11 first responders and other victims of the attacks permanent.

    When it became apparent that he bill passed, the Senate Chamber erupted in applause. 

    The bill, which passed in the House on July 12, will now go to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature.

    FDNY firefighters were in Washington, D.C. for Tuesday's Senate vote, and first responder John Feal called the passage the "most amazing thing I've ever seen."

    "We saw an opportunity, we had a small window — and we took advantage of it," said Feal after the vote. "We're leaving D.C. on our terms, and we're going out with dignity and class."

    Former "Daily Show" host and comedian Jon Stewart, a fierce advocate for 9/11 first responders and the bill, spoke after the vote saying he hopes the legislation allows the first responders and victims to heal "without the burden of having to advocate."

    "We can never repay all that the 9/11 community has done for our country, but we can stop penalizing them," he said, adding that working to get this bill passed was the "honor of my life."

    Addressing the chamber Tuesday, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, shared his support for the bill and urged the rest of the Senate "to stand with first responders" without any amendments in order for it to go directly to President Donald Trump's office for immediate signature and passage. 

    New York Sen. Chuck Schumer "those excuses and those delays end today" said ahead of the vote while addressing the chamber. 

    "These are the same soldiers of valor who've selflessly risked their lives in wars and conflicts overseas. There was a war in the city I love. And these were our bravest soldiers," Schumer said.

    New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand shared similar sentiments. 

    "The eyes of the nation are looking at this chamber today to see if we will finally stand by our 9/11 heroes for the rest of their lives," she said. 

    Speaking at a news conference Monday, President of the Uniformed Firefighters Association Gerard Fitzgerald said he was optimistic that the bill with new amendments added on by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, would pass.

    "Over the weekend the NYPD lost three of their members related to 9/11 disease. This is something that will continue to happen. It's very sad unfortunately it's a reminder here in New York city sometimes daily of the sick and dying and what we have going on," Fitzgerald said. "We're hopeful tomorrow that it'll go through and it'll be on the President's desk by the end of the week."

    Paul and Lee had been blocking a vote. Paul was concerned about its effect on the deficit, while Lee wanted to ensure the fund has proper oversight in place to prevent fraud and abuse.

    Ahead of the vote, Paul addressed the chamber rising his economic concerns when it comes to funding the bill. 

    He once again questioned the bill’s 70-year time frame and said any new spending should be offset by corresponding cuts, citing that the government already faces $22 trillion in debt, a figure that grows every year, Paul said, adding Congress should prioritize spending and not add to the debt.

    He said his amendment would fund the first $10 billion in the first 10 years of the bill's time frame with the help of "very moderate" spending cuts. 

    Lee also addressed the Senate Chamber ahead of the vote, saying his proposed amendment would not delay the vote.

    In the end, none of the amendments had enough votes to pass.

    Fitzgerald said he met with Sen. Lee's staff last week and was irritated by their position on the bill, adding that the Victim Compensation Fund has been going on for nine years and has been audited to make sure there's no corruption.

    "You just can't show up and say that you have cancer with nothing to back it up," Fitzgerald said. "I thought that the fact that he said if there's a sunset on this bill that would lead to less corruption or no corruption, it just doesn't make any sense."

    Last week, the FDNY announced that the 200th member of the department died as a result of 9/11-related illness. Richard Driscoll was a member of the FDNY for 32 years and retired in 2002 from Engine 91 in East Harlem. A funeral mass will be held for him Wednesday at Sacred Heart Church in Monroe, New York.

    The bill extends through 2092 a fund created after the 2001 attacks, essentially making the fund permanent. The $7.4 billion fund is rapidly being depleted, and administrators recently cut benefit payments by up to 70%.

    The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would result in about $10.2 billion in additional compensation payments over 10 years, including more than $4 billion for claims already filed.

    "The thought that your family will be somewhat taken care of it's a real thing," Fitzgerald said. "And it's something that these folks can put to the side and maybe concentrate more on the moments that they have left with their family so that they can leave peacefully."