A pair of conservative Republican senators are gumming up the works on a bipartisan bill that would provide for 9/11 victims and their families, infuriating first responders who worked at Ground Zero.
Sen. Mike Lee of Utah placed a procedural hold on an extension of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, effectively blocking the bill from coming up for a vote despite overwhelming support on both sides of the aisle.
Shortly after Lee kicked the can down the road, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) requested a unanimous consent agreement on the Senate floor, only to have the motion swatted down by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
“I reserve the right to object,” said Paul, providing his rationale. “It has long been my feeling that we need to address our massive debt in this country — we have a $22 trillion debt, [and] we’re adding debt at about a trillion dollars a year — and therefore any new spending that we are approaching, any new program that’s going to have longevity of 70, 80 years, should be offset by cutting spending that’s less valuable.”
Paul said he would put forth an amendment once the bill came to the floor, but was objecting in the meantime — a move that drew fury from Gillibrand and fellow New York Sen. Chuck Schumer.
“I am deeply disappointed that my colleague has just objected to the desperately needed and urgent bill for our 9/11 first responders,” said Gillibrand. “Enough with the political games.”
Added Schumer, “Throughout the history of America, when our young men and women and older men and women volunteered in the armed services and risked their lives for our freedom, we came back and gave them health care, and we’re still working on making it better. Why are these people any different?
“They too risked their lives in a time of war and were hurt by it. … How can we, for whatever reason, stop this bill from moving forward?”
A contingent of firefighters union leaders, gathered outside Lee’s Capitol Hill office on today as word spread of his own hold-up, asked the same question.
“There is bipartisan support in the Senate. This is poised to pass,” said Jake Lemonda, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. “This is vital legislation [which] protects all first responders across the country.”
Lemonda and leaders of other firefighter unions camped outside, hoping to speak with Lee about his last-minute hold-up, but said they were turned away by the senator’s staffers.
“We tried to speak with somebody in his office and we weren’t given attention,” said Gerard Fitzgerald, president of New York’s Uniformed Firefighters Association. “If he’s not on board, we’d appreciate a reason why.”
Fitzgerald noted that the hold-up comes as the FDNY’s heroes are preparing for the Saturday funeral of one of their own, smoke-eater Kevin Nolan, who recently succumbed to 9/11-related cancer.
“Another man taken down, taken away from his family, as a result of his work at the site on 9/11 and after,” said Fitzgerald. “We in New York City are dealing with this constantly.”
Harold A. Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, agreed.
“Every one of those workers, certainly every one of those firefighters and cops, they didn’t hold,” said Schaitberger, who penned a strongly worded letter to Lee’s office. “They didn’t that day. They didn’t for weeks and months to follow.”
While Lee and his staff gave the union leaders the cold shoulder, he apparently had plenty of time for his “Jell-O Wednesday” event, held weekly in his Washington, DC, office, according to his online schedule.
The bill to reauthorize the fund cleared the House of Representatives with ease last week, 402-12.
Joining fallen NYPD cop James Zadroga’s name on the bill are late FDNY hero Ray Pfeifer and NYPD Detective Luis Alvarez, who died in June, just weeks after delivering stirring Capitol Hill testimony on behalf of the legislation, flanked by former “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart.
Attribution:New York Post