House approves 9/11 victims bill, sends it to Senate

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House on Friday overwhelmingly approved a bill ensuring that a victims compensation fund for the Sept. 11 attacks never runs out of money.

The 402-12 vote sends the bill to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to call a vote before Congress goes on its August recess.

Lawmakers from both parties hailed the House vote, which comes a month after comedian Jon Stewart sharply criticized Congress for failing to act. Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 responders, told lawmakers at an emotional hearing that they were showing "disrespect" to first responders now suffering from respiratory ailments and other illnesses as a result of their recovery work at the former World Trade Center site in New York City.

Stewart called the sparse attendance at the June 11 hearing "an embarrassment to the country and a stain on this institution." He later targeted McConnell for slow-walking previous version of the legislation and using it as a political pawn to get other things done.

Stewart said Friday that replenishing the victims fund was "necessary, urgent and morally right."

Replenishing the fund will not fix the health problems of emergency workers and their families, but it would remove "a 15-year, unnecessary burden placed by their own government upon them," Stewart said at a Capitol news conference.

13 PHOTOS
Jon Stewart testifies during 9/11 victims' fund hearing
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Jon Stewart testifies during 9/11 victims' fund hearing
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: Former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart signs a name placard for Retired New York Police Department detective and 9/11 responder Luis Alvarez following a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The fund provides financial assistance to responders, victims and their families who require medical care related to health issues they suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: Former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart is sworn in before testifying during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The fund provides financial assistance to responders, victims and their families who require medical care related to health issues they suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: FealGood Foundation co-founder John Feal hugs former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The fund provides financial assistance to responders, victims and their families who require medical care related to health issues they suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 11: Entertainer and activist Jon Stewart wipes away tears after being presented with the jacket of first responder Ray Pfeifer before testifying at a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee as it considers permanent authorization of the Victim Compensation Fund in Washington on Tuesday June 11, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 11: Entertainer and activist Jon Stewart holds up the jacket of first responder Ray Pfeifer before testifying at a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee as it considers permanent authorization of the Victim Compensation Fund in Washington on Tuesday June 11, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 11: Entertainer and activist Jon Stewart holds up the jacket of first responder Ray Pfeifer before testifying at a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee as it considers permanent authorization of the Victim Compensation Fund in Washington on Tuesday June 11, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: Former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart is pictured before testifying during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The fund provides financial assistance to responders, victims and their families who require medical care related to health issues they suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: Former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart and FealGood Foundation co-founder John Feal look on during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The fund provides financial assistance to responders, victims and their families who require medical care related to health issues they suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: Former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart arrives before testifying during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The fund provides financial assistance to responders, victims and their families who require medical care related to health issues they suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: Former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart arrives before testifying during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The fund provides financial assistance to responders, victims and their families who require medical care related to health issues they suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: Former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart arrives before testifying during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The fund provides financial assistance to responders, victims and their families who require medical care related to health issues they suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: Former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The fund provides financial assistance to responders, victims and their families who require medical care related to health issues they suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: Former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart speaks to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) following a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The fund provides financial assistance to responders, victims and their families who require medical care related to health issues they suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers credited Stewart for raising the profile of the issue, which has lingered on Capitol Hill for years.

"You made it too hot to handle" in the Senate, Pelosi, D-Calif., told Stewart, praising him for shining his "celebrity spotlight" on the issue.

The bill would extend a victims compensation fund created after the 2001 terrorist attacks through 2092, essentially making it permanent. The $7.4 billion fund is rapidly being depleted, and administrators recently cut benefit payments by up to 70%.

The Congressional Budget Office said in a report this week that the bill would result in about $10.2 billion in additional compensation payments over 10 years, including more than $4 billion for claims already filed. The bill would require that victims whose compensation payments were reduced because of the fund's declining balance be made whole.

"This was not a hurricane or a flood or a tornado. This was the largest terrorist attack ever on American soil," Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., said in a floor speech before the House vote. "As Jon Stewart testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee, these terrorists weren't saying 'Death to Tribeca'. This was an attack on all of us as Americans and we all should be voting yes today as Americans."

Zeldin and other lawmakers noted that one of the bill's most prominent advocates, former New York City police detective Luis Alvarez, did not live to see the bill's passage. Alvarez, who testified with Stewart at last month's House hearing, died June 29 at age 53.

Alvarez, who was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2016, traced his illness to the three months he spent in the rubble of the World Trade Center's twin towers after the attacks.

Alvarez and other first responders "shouldn't have had to come down here to fight on behalf of all of these other victims and first responders in the first place," Zeldin said. "Month after month, year after year ... how many first responders have made dozens of trips (to the Capitol) educating, advocating, passionately asking members of Congress for their support?"

The bill was renamed to honor Alvarez and other first responders.

"The first responders who rushed into danger on September 11th, 2001 are the very definition of American heroes and patriots," McConnell said in a statement after the House vote. "The Senate has never forgotten the Victim Compensation Fund and we aren't about to start now. We will consider this important legislation soon."

20 PHOTOS
Rarely seen photos from 9/11
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Rarely seen photos from 9/11

President George W. Bush watches news coverage of the attacks on the World Trade Center as he is briefed in a classroom at Emma. E Booker Elementary School on September 11, 2001. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Eric Draper, courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library

In a photo taken two days after the attacks, the extensive damage to the Pentagon can be seen.

Photo Credit: Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cedric H. Rudisill

Late into the night on September 11, 2001, the Pentagon continues to smoke. 

Photo Credit: Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Houlihan

A clock frozen at the time of impact inside the Pentagon. 

Photo Credit: Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Larry A. Simmons

A scorched fifth-floor office desk from inside the Pentagon. 

Photo Credit: Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Larry A. Simmons

More damage from the fifth-floor of the Pentagon.

Photo Credit: Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Larry A. Simmons

President George W. Bush talks on the phone aboard Air-force One as his senior staff talks nearby. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library

George W. Bush converses with Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice inside the President's Emergency Operations Center on the day of the attacks. 

Photo Credit: National Archives photo

Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice listen intently during meetings in the President's Emergency Operations Center. 

Photo Credit: National Archives photo

More views from inside the President's Emergency Operations Center on September 11, 2001. 

Photo Credit: National Archives photo

Smoke billows from site of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Paul Morse, courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library

New York National Guard soldiers from the 69th Infantry Division and New York City firefighters work together to clear rubble from the ground zero. 

Photo Credit: New York National Guard photo

A New York National Guard soldier at ground zero. 

Photo Credit: New York National Guard photo

Secretary of State Colin Powell from inside the President's Emergency Operations Center. 

Photo Credit: National Archives photo

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney converse inside the President's Emergency Operations Center on September 11, 2001. 

Photo Credit: National Archives photo

One day after the attack's President George W. Bush greets rescue workers, firefighters, and military who were on site at the Pentagon. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library

The President thanks Firefighters, rescue workers, and military personnel at ground zero. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library

President George W. Bush holds hands with his father during the service for America's National Day of Prayer and Remembrance on September 14, 2001. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library

Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) hang the largest authorized flag for the military over the side of the Pentagon as cleanup and recovery continue after the attacks. 

Photo Credit: Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Pendergrass

Taken on Feb. 8, 2004, the widow of pilot Jason Dahl who was flying United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, holds a flag honoring those who sacrificed their lives on 9/11.  The plane is believed to have been en route to the White House but crashed in Somerset Pennsylvania.

Photo Credit: Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Darin Overstreet

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