McConnell to Stewart: 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund will continue

Comedian Jon Stewart continues to grab headlines as he lobbies Congress for renewal of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. During an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Stewart laid the blame at the feet of Republicans for not moving forward with the bill to provide help for the victims. He called out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell specifically. Stewart is moving from the lobbying stage to the public shaming stage.

Questioned by host Chris Wallace about his appearance before Congress Stewart made a point to say that the funding has bi-partisan support but then he said the only ones who have voiced objections in the past are Republicans. That is when he gave the example of McConnell. Stewart said, “I want to make it clear this has never been dealt with compassionately by Senator McConnell. He has always held out until the very last minute and only then under intense lobbying and public shaming has he even deigned to move on it.” He called McConnell the “white whale” of the issue.

Stewart said other Republicans supported the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, Axios reports. “This isn’t a Republican-Democrat issue,” he said. “Not all Republicans oppose this, but everyone who has opposed it is a Republican.” Stewart said seven 9/11 first responders have died in the last week alone and slammed the “cynicism” of Washington for bringing the community “to the end of their rope.” “If you were to take all the arrogance and entitlement and elitism that people don’t like about Hollywood and show business, and you concentrated it in one city, and gave those people actual power, that’s Washington,” he said

Mitch McConnell was a guest on Fox and Friends Monday morning. I saw the interview. When he was asked about Stewart’s comments, his response included a couple of standard lines. “I don’t know why he’s all bent out of shape.” “It sounds to me he’s looking for some way to take offense.” Those two sentences sound more measured than Stewart’s emotional pleas but you’d expect a politician to speak more from a logical standpoint than from emotions. Stewart’s frustration with the slow pace of the workings in Congress is understandable. Congress moves slowly, the Senate in particular. Conservatives usually think that is a good thing, especially when it comes to appropriating taxpayer dollars.

McConnell went on, though, to reassure the hosts (and the viewers) that the fund will be taken care of in a timely fashion. “There is no way we won’t address this problem appropriately. We have in the past and we will again in the future.” When show host Steve Doocy asked if it will be fully funded, his answer was, “Yes.”

Billions of dollars have been spent in benefits to first responders and workers who have fallen ill due to their time working at the sites of the 9/11 terror attacks in New York City, in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon. The funding of the compensation must be renewed at certain intervals. The bill before Congress extends the funding for 70 years into the future to eliminate frequent trips to Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress for the money.

More than 40,000 people have applied to the Victim Compensation Fund, which covers illnesses potentially related to being at the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon or Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after the attacks. More than $5 billion in benefits have been awarded out of the $7.4 billion fund, with about 21,000 claims pending.

The current fund allows for claims through 2020, and Stewart is pushing to keep funding so that survivors could make claims and receive money through 2090, so that money remains throughout the lives of the people who need it. Stewart estimated that this would cost an addition $12 billion.

The full House Judiciary Committee approved the bill on the day after Stewart’s impassioned plea to a Congressional sub-committee. It next goes to the full House for a vote and then on to the Senate. Stewart was voicing concern that the Senate Majority Leader will hold up the bill when it reaches the Senate, and perhaps include the funding in a larger package to promote a larger agenda.

“In 2010, he used it to make sure that the Bush tax cuts would be permanent,” Stewart recalled. “In 2015, he took it out of the transportation bill because he wanted to extract some promises on oil imports.”

It sounds as though that will not be the case. McConnell is on the record now pledging that the fund will be fully funded.