If there is one issue that everyone in this country should be able to agree upon, it is that the first responders to the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks deserve proper medical care. There is absolutely no conceivable reason why a deal that aimed to reauthorize the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act should fail to pass the Senate, but this week it did. Not only was an agreement not reached, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blocked it for the most self-serving, despicable reason imaginable. Now, former Daily Show host Jon Stewart is back on Capitol Hill and angrily demanding answers.
Stewart returned to Washington on Thursday, and blasted McConnell for his failure to protect the more than 33,000 who are receiving medical care through the 9/11 Health Act:
“This is insane. We have a bunch of first responders outside freezing their asses off,” he said. “Our country’s last responders, our country’s worst responders, are inside nice and comfy and cozy, and probably having soup…The man has literally sponsored and touted the exact same bill for energy workers. I honestly just wish I could understand the rationale. That bill cost twice as much what they’re asking for these guys. How in good conscience can you deny them the very thing that you have proudly brought to the people of your state? Please, personally ask him that.”
The $11 billion energy bill that Stewart referred to was one that McConnell was so proud of he touted it in re-election campaign ads in 2014. The bill provided cancer screenings and set up a compensation fund for workers who were injured while working at nuclear plants — many of whom were from his home state of Kentucky. Former governor Bill Richardson (D-NM), who was Energy Secretary at the time the bill passed, said that without McConnell’s help the bill never would have passed. So, why would the same man, who helped all of those victims, block a deal to help the 9/11 first responders?
Why, for money from the fossil fuel industry.
According to reports, McConnell was using the reauthorization of the act as leverage to ease restrictions on oil exports. McConnell’s office has, of course, denied that he had anything to do with the failure to reach an agreement. In addition to Stewart, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) President Richard Trumka also ripped McConnell for his selfish attempts to profit from political maneuvering:
“Sen. McConnell recently said,’In Congress we have a responsibility to advocate for our service members and veterans and to ensure that they get the treatment they deserve during and after their service.’ Yet in an opportunity to act on those words, Sen. McConnell didn’t. He is utterly failing the first responders of September 11—the first veterans of America’s current wars. It is despicable and negligent for Sen. McConnell to play politics with the lives and health of some of America’s bravest men and women. Sen. McConnell should not stand in the way of a permanent and fully funded James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act.”
The Republican Party talks a good game about supporting our troops, police officers, and first responders, but when it comes time to actually put their money where their mouth is, they fail every single time. This is not a bill that should even be up for debate. The act should have been permanently reauthorized as part of the highway bill that is expected to pass with bipartisan support, but the GOP has prevented that from happening. The Republican Party has proven that they are completely ineffective leaders who spend more time catering to corporations than they do the people who elected them into office. This is just one more, of the many reasons to vote these people out of office and put progressives, who care about this country, in their seats.
Watch Stewart’s remarks here:
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.