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Despite strong bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, the bill had languished for months, stalled by two Republican senators ― Rand Paul (Ky.) and Mike Lee (Utah) ― over purported funding issues.
The holdup prompted a flurry of lobbying by 9/11 first responders backed by the fierce support of former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, a longtime advocate of their cause.
In July, Stewart appeared on Fox News and accused Paul of “fiscal responsibility virtue signaling” for holding up the bill over budget concerns. He noted that Paul had voted in favor of Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut in 2017, which has added billions of dollars to the national debt.
“It’s absolutely outrageous,” Stewart said. “Now [Paul] stands up at the last minute, after 15 years of blood, sweat and tears from the 9/11 community, to say that it’s all over. Now we’re going to balance the budget on the backs of the 9/11 first responder community.”
In a tweet that same day, Paul denied he was “blocking” the bill and said he was “simply asking for a vote on an amendment to offset the cost.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked similar legislation in 2015, reportedly as a negotiating tactic to try to lift a ban on U.S. oil exports.
The legislation’s eventual passage offered little solace to people like 9/11 first responder and advocate John Feal, who had his foot crushed at Ground Zero. Or New York police detective Luis Alvarez, who faced 69 rounds of chemotherapy before he died this June, shortly after testifying before Congress.
“Passing this legislation — there’s no joy. There’s no comfort,” Feal said after the bill cleared the Senate. “Yes, I cried with Jon [Stewart]. But that was to exhale. That was to get 18 years of pain and suffering out.”
Experts predict deaths from 9/11-related diseases will soon outnumber the nearly 3,000 killed in the attack itself, if they haven’t already.