First Responders Funding

Entertainer and activist Jon Stewart lends his support to firefighters, first responders and survivors of the 9/11 terror attacks at a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee as it considers permanent authorization of the Victim Compensation Fund, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 11, 2019.

If Republican Senate leaders are aiming to make Republican Sen. Cory Gardner more appealing to Democrats, they have a pretty good strategy.

Monday Gardner's office announced that he would change the name of legislation he introduced in February to permanently and fully endow the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which pays the medical claims of those whose illnesses are tied to the terrorist attacks that day.

To date, the 9/11 survivors fund has honored the late James Zadroga, a New York City police detective. If Gardner's bill becomes law, it would add firefighter Ray Pfeifer and Detective Luis Alvarez. All three died of cancer linked to exposure at Ground Zero on 9/11.

Gardner is joined on the bill by Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Gardner is one of the Senate's most endangered Republicans because he hails from a state Donald Trump lost in 2016 and where he remains unpopular. Unaffiliated voters account for more than one-third of state's electorate, and Democrats are seeking to cast Gardner as an ideologue Republican who marches in lock-step with President Trump.

“Luis Alvarez, James Zadroga and Ray Pfeifer gave everything for this country by responding to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and it is unacceptable for this Congress to fail these heroes and their families,” Gardner said in a statement. “After all they have done for us, our nation cannot and will not turn its back on them. It’s time for Congress to do its job and fully fund the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.”

Gillibrand, a presidential candidate, added, “Our 9/11 first responders are sick and dying, and too many of them have spent too much of their precious time left fighting to convince Congress to pass the 9/11 VCF bill."

She said the bill has strong bipartisan support in the House and Senate.

"This all comes down to political will and whether Congress is truly willing to ‘never forget the heroes of 9/11,'” she stated.

Last month Jon Stewart, the former host of "The Daily Show," blasted a House committee for what he called “callous indifference” toward 9/11 first responders who have fallen ill since service, calling out the empty empty seats at the committee table in front of him.

“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 said. “Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders, and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress.”

The House Judiciary Committee then voted unanimously to pass the Never Forget the Heroes Act, which would extend the fund through 2090.

In 2005, legislation called the Remember 9/11 Health Act initially proposed a $7.4 billion fund, but Senate Republicans trimmed that figure to $4.2 billion. In 2015 the fund was extended to 2020 and expanded to $7.3 billion.

In February, the special master over the fund said only $2 billion remained to pay future claims.

Congressional sources say the fund could ultimately face 190,000 more claims and already has paid out to about 21,000.

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