Comedian Jon Stewart joined the chorus of voices rebuking Sen. Rand Paul on Wednesday after the Kentucky Republican temporarily delayed bipartisan legislation that would secure compensation for 9/11 first responders and victims, citing concerns over funding for the new bill.
“It’s absolutely outrageous,” Stewart said during a Wednesday evening appearance on Fox News. “You’ll pardon me if I’m not impressed in any way by Rand Paul’s fiscal responsibility virtue signaling.”
Stewart, who has long been an outspoken supporter of congressional funding for those injured or sickened by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, noted Paul’s vote in favor of President Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut that was signed into law in December 2017. That legislation contributed to the country’s increased budget deficit, which may exceed $1 trillion for the full budget year, the Associated Press reported this month.
“Rand Paul presented tissue paper avoidance of the $1.5 trillion tax cut that added hundreds of billions of dollars to our deficit, and now he 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,” Stewart said. “Now we’re going to balance the budget on the backs of the 9/11 first responder community.”
Hours earlier on the Senate floor, Paul objected to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) request to have the bill approved by unanimous consent, arguing that “any new spending that we are approaching, any new program that’s going to have the longevity of 70, 80 years should be offset by cutting spending that’s less valuable.” The request for unanimous consent is rejected if a single senator objects, according to Senate rules.
“We need, at the very least, to have this debate,” Paul said. “I will be offering an amendment if the bill should come to the floor, but until then I will object.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) also placed a hold on the measure, which has 73 co-sponsors in the Senate, The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett reported. In statements to The Post, spokesmen for both senators stressed that neither of them was seeking to block the legislation but wanted to add provisions to it regarding cost and oversight.
The reasoning, however, did not sit well with Stewart or fellow activist John Feal, who joined the former host of “The Daily Show” on Fox News. Wednesday’s news was also condemned by Democrats and first responders, such as the head of the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Fire Fighters, Barrett reported.
“The people from the state of Kentucky and the people from the state of Utah deserve better,” Feal, a construction worker who was injured at Ground Zero, told Fox News host Bret Baier. He added that the senators “lack humanity.”
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund is expected to stop taking claims at the end of next year, and it is already running out of money. Under the new bill, the fund will be extended for the next 70 years with the first decade costing an estimated $10.2 billion.
“At some point, we have to stand up for the people who have always stood up for us, and at this moment in time, maybe cannot stand up for themselves due to their illnesses and their injuries,” Stewart said, later calling the situation “an abomination.”
For most of the roughly eight-minute segment, Stewart and Feal ripped into Paul and Lee as they voiced emotional appeals on behalf of those who benefit from the fund.
“[Paul] is a guy that put us in hundreds of billions of dollars of debt,” Stewart said. “Now he’s going to tell us that a billion dollars a year over 10 years is just too much for us to handle?"
The comedian continued: “There’s some things that they have no trouble putting on the credit card, but somehow when it comes to the 9/11 first responder community, the cops, the firefighters, the construction workers, the volunteers, the survivors, all of a sudden, man we gotta go through this.”
Feal slammed Paul and Lee as “opportunists.”
“Any statement that they come out with doesn’t hold water with me,” he said. “You can’t cherry pick and choose when you want to be a conservative fiscal hawk. That’s just insulting to our intelligence.”
Advocates for the fund had recently met with Lee and were assured by his staff that “they were not going to get in the way of this,” Feal said. He added bluntly: “Mike Lee, you’re a liar.”
In a statement to The Post on Thursday, Lee’s spokesman Conn Carroll said the Utah senator agrees with Stewart’s belief that a billion dollars a year for 10 years “is a reasonable request for 9/11 first responders,” and "he will offer an amendment funding the compensation fund at an even slightly higher amount.”
During the Fox News interview, Feal said he remains optimistic about the bill because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “gave us his word and he’s been sincere about that.” In June, McConnell told a group of 9/11 first responders that he was working to get the funding renewal passed by August, The Post reported. The announcement came a week after Stewart skewered McConnell on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” accusing the senator of “saying you love the 9/11 community when they serve your political purposes.”
“But when they’re in urgent need, you slow-walk, you dither, you use it as a political pawn to get other things you want, and you don’t get the job done completely,” Stewart said in a clip that went viral, amassing millions of views.
On Wednesday, Stewart argued that the future of the fund is “an outrageous place” for the two Republican senators to “take a stand.”
“This is either necessary or it’s not and everybody agrees that it’s necessary,” he said. “Your budgetary priorities are either moved by a moral compass or they’re not.”
The program, he said, “has proven itself.”
“It has shown itself to be faithful to the statute, it has shown itself to be fair to the claimant and it has shown itself to be respectful of the taxpayers,” he said. “But most importantly, it brings just a moment’s peace to a community that has suffered and continues to suffer because of their heroism.”