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 PaulGraham promises ObamaCare repeal if Trump, Republicans win in 2020 Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Rand Paul to 'limit' August activities due to health MORE (Ky.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeA cash advance to consider McConnell, allies lean into Twitter, media 'war' Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing 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 MaloneyReport: Americans unprepared for retirement Senate approves fund to provide compensation for Sept. 11 victims Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment 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 McConnellTwo years after Harvey's devastation, the wake-up call has not been heeded McGrath releases ad blasting McConnell with coal miners in Kentucky: 'Which side are you on?' Prediction: 2020 election is set to be hacked, if we don't act fast 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.”