Senate approves fund to provide compensation for Sept. 11 victims

The Senate passed legislation on Tuesday to extend the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, sending the measure to President Trump's desk.

The vote caps off a months-long struggle after officials warned last year that the fund was running out of money and, without congressional action, could be unable to cover all claims from victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks. 

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Comedian Jon Stewart and a group of 9/11 first responders sat in the gallery throughout the votes and applause broke out in the chamber when senators cast their final votes to pass the bill 97-2. GOP Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCheney unveils Turkey sanctions legislation CNN catches heat for asking candidates about Ellen, Bush friendship at debate Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump isolated amid Syria furor | Pompeo, Pence to visit Turkey in push for ceasefire | Turkish troops advance in Syria | Graham throws support behind Trump's sanctions MORE (Ky.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHillicon Valley: FCC approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Dems wrangle over breaking up Big Tech at debate | Critics pounce as Facebook's Libra stumbles | Zuckerberg to be interviewed by Fox News | Twitter details rules for political figures' tweets Republican lawmaker proposes transferring drone authority to local governments A decade of policymaking failures is to blame for new Syria crisis MORE (Utah) voted against the measure. 

The bill would extend the compensation fund through fiscal 2090, effectively making it a permanent reauthorization. It already passed the House in a 402-12 vote earlier this month, clearing the way for it to be sent to Trump's desk.

Backers of the bill stopped short of saying Trump will sign the legislation but have questioned why he would veto a bill that passed both chambers by veto-proof majorities. 

Supporters took a victory lap around Tuesday’s vote. Rep Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyOn The Money: Tax, loan documents for Trump properties reportedly showed inconsistencies | Tensions flare as Dems hammer Trump consumer chief | Critics pounce as Facebook crypto project stumbles Commerce Department to develop stats on income inequality Tensions flare as Democrats urge consumer bureau to boost penalties MORE (D-N.Y.) was spotted wearing her firefighters jacket around the Capitol and watched the Senate vote from the gallery. Stewart joined Senate Democrats for their closed-door caucus lunch ahead of the bill’s final passage. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) praised the Senate's vote on Tuesday, touting the 97-2 margin in a press conference after the vote alongside Gillibrand, Stewart and 9/11 first responders. 

“Righteousness sometimes, sometimes, in the mangled town, sometimes prevails,” Schumer said. “Your losses, painful as they are, are not in vain, as today shows.” 

As part of a deal worked out by leadership, the Senate also voted on two potential changes to the bill pitched by Paul and Lee, two libertarian-minded senators. Both of the amendments were voted down.

The amendment from Paul offered paying for the bill by making cuts to other accounts. Meanwhile, Lee wanted to specify that $10.2 billion would be allocated for the fund over the next 10 years, with an additional $10 billion allocated after that.

Paul characterized his amendment as reflective about his concerns about the debt and called accusations that he was trying to hold up the 9/11 bill as a “manufactured crisis” and “fake furor.”

"While I support our heroic first responders, I can’t in good conscience vote for legislation which to my dismay remains unfunded," Paul said in a statement. "We have a nearly trillion dollar deficit and $22 trillion in debt. Spending is out of control. As I have done on countless issues, including disaster relief and wall funding, I will always take a stand against borrowing more money to pay for programs rather than setting priorities and cutting waste."

Their push for changes to the bill, including Paul's temporary delay of the legislation last week, earned them fierce pushback from 9/11 victim groups and Stewart. 

John Feal, a 9/11 first responder, called out Paul and Lee for opposing the bill, saying they had accurately predicted Congress would pass the legislation. 

“As for Rand Paul and Mike Lee, told you so. We whooped your asses. 97-2,” Feal said during a press conference after the Senate’s vote. 

Neither amendment from Lee or Paul received the necessary 60 votes to be adopted, with a majority of senators voting against them. Democrats had voiced confidence heading into the series of votes that the GOP-sponsored measures would be defeated.

"I understand the 72 years is a recipe for trouble, but the truth is the timing is limited for this bill because these men and women aren't going to survive," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) last week about Lee’s amendment. "So many of them are already sick and dying."

The fight over the bill jumped into the national spotlight when Stewart sharply criticized lawmakers for their poor attendance at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing to renew the funding. 

"They responded in five seconds. They did their jobs," Stewart said of the first responders. "Eighteen years later," Stewart added, "do yours!"

The bill specifically honors 9/11 first responders Luis Alvarez and Ray Pfeifer and New York Police Department detective James Zadroga. Alvarez developed cancer after responding to the attacks and spoke at the same hearing as Stewart. He died on June 29. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPatient advocates launch drug pricing ad campaign Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs War of words at the White House MORE (R-Ky.) had pledged to bring the bill up for a vote before Congress left for the August recess. 

Feal thanked McConnell during a press conference after the vote, characterizing the GOP leader as “honest” and “sincere” during a meeting that 9/11 responders had with the majority leader. 

“He kept his word to me,” he said. “He kept his word to those men who were in the meeting with me.”