WASHINGTON — 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.
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.
Eleven Republicans and independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan opposed the bill. No Democrat voted against the measure.
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 its 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 “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.
McConnell said in a statement after the House vote that the Senate will take up the legislation soon.
“The first responders who rushed into danger on September 11th, 2001, are the very definition of American heroes and patriots,” he said. “The Senate has never forgotten the victim compensation fund and we aren’t about to start now.”
Biden demands apology from Sanders over ‘doctored’ video on Social Security
INDIANOLA, Iowa — Former Vice President Joe Biden demanded an apology Saturday from the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign for circulating what he called a “doctored” video misconstruing his record on Social Security.
Biden, a Democratic rival for the nomination, responded to a question from a woman who told him she received a call from a campaign questioning Biden’s position on Social Security and Medicare. He told an audience that “Bernie’s people” had circulated a video that falsely suggested he agreed in 2018 with then-House Speaker Paul Ryan’s position to dismantle the benefits.
“But it is simply a lie that video that is going around, and ask anybody in the press, it’s a flat lie. They’ve acknowledged that this is a doctored tape,” Biden said before pointing to a PolitiFact article outlining falsehoods from the Sanders campaign. “And I think it’s beneath and I’m looking for his campaign to come forward and disown it, but they haven’t done it yet.”
The video in question was posted by an unverified Twitter user and retweeted earlier this month by a senior Sanders campaign adviser. The video clipped remarks Biden made at the Brookings Institute in April 2018, showing Biden saying Ryan was “correct” in trying to dismantle Social Security, a remark his campaign says he made sarcastically.
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“The Sanders campaign has pushed a video and transcript that were intentionally, deceptively edited to make it seem like Vice President Biden was praising and agreeing with Paul Ryan, when it is clear he was doing the exact opposite,” a Biden campaign official said in a statement. “In the speech, Biden was reiterating his core belief that we need to undo Trump’s tax cuts for the super wealthy and replace them with a tax code that rewards work, not just wealth.”
Sanders campaign officials have also posted videos, mainly from Biden’s time in the Senate, in which Biden discusses contemporaneous proposals that would have affected Social Security benefits. They have sought to contrast Biden’s history on the issue with Sanders’ and cast the Vermont senator as an unflinching defender of the program.
In response to Biden’s demand for an apology, Sanders pushed back in a statement and told Biden to stop “dodging questions about his record.”
“Joe Biden should be honest with voters and stop trying to doctor his own public record of consistently and repeatedly trying to cut Social Security. The facts are very clear: Biden not only pushed to cut Social Security — he is on tape proudly bragging about it on multiple occasions,” Sanders said.
His campaign also immediately blasted out a memo titled “Joe Biden’s Record on Social Security,” listing video, statements and quotes of Biden talking about the program far as 1984.
Biden’s response came after numerous Sanders campaign advisers and the candidate himself had launched attacks against the former vice president’s record on Social Security.
In recent weeks, Sanders has continued to bring attention to Biden’s Iraq war vote and long political record — which he described as “baggage”— in an effort to dismantle Biden’s argument that he’s ready to be this era’s Democratic leader.
Moments before the Biden campaign official’s statement was released, Biden warned an Exeter, New Hampshire, crowd that Democratic infighting would only hurt the party’s chances of winning an election against President Donald Trump.
“I think the best thing for all Democratic candidates, and what we’re going to do in our campaign as you heard me tonight, you didn’t hear me say a word about any of the other candidates. We are going to focus on the issues of the working families of America and bring them together.”
Shaquille Brewster contributed.
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