The House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a bill which would permanently reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Wednesday, the day after comedian Jon Stewart gave impassioned testimony in support of the bill in video that quickly went viral.
Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., predicted the bill will pass with overwhelming support and said lawmakers meant no disrespect as they moved in and out of the subcommittee hearing, a common occurrence on Capitol Hill.
"Every sick responder and survivor should be treated with the same dignity and compassion", House Judiciary chairman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from NY, said after the bill passed the House panel Wednesday, according to CNN.
"I'm pretty sure what's going to happen five years from now, more of these men and women are going to get sick and they are going to die and I am awfully exhausted of hearing that it's a 9/11New York issue", Mr Stewart said. "Congress must act to make that happen".
That has set up a fight every five years to get Congress to renew the programme. At the time of its last renewal, Congress appropriated $4.6 billion to the fund, bringing the total appropriated amount of the fund over the years to $7.4 billion.
The new bill would extend the expiration to 2090.
However, Rupa Bhattacharyya, special master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, said projections show the money remaining in the fund is insufficient to pay all claims already pending and claims expected to be filed. The fund has seen a significant rise in claims in the past two years - over 24,000 claims in 2017, 2018 and January 2019.
Stewart, the former host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and a longtime advocate for 9/11 first responders and their families, called the sparse attendance by lawmakers "an embarrassment to the country and a stain on the institution" of Congress. Pointing to rows of empty seats at a House Judiciary Committee hearing room, Stewart said "sick and dying" first responders and their families came to Washington for the hearing, only to face a almost deserted dais.
If the bill passes the House, it would also need to pass the the Senate.
"As I sit here today, I can't help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting health care and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to", Stewart angrily explained.
At a news conference on Tuesday, McConnell said, "We've always dealt with that in the past in a compassionate way and I assume we will again".