Senators: Bill on 9/11 victims fund to be voted on next week

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., center, speaks to reporters following the weekly policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Senators from both parties say they have an agreement to vote on a bipartisan bill to ensure a victims' compensation fund related to the Sept. 11 attacks never runs out of money

WASHINGTON — The Senate will vote Tuesday on a bipartisan bill to ensure a victims' compensation fund related to the Sept. 11 attacks never runs out of money, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday.

The announcement came after Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, both of New York, reached an agreement with Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky to bring up the bill with two amendments sponsored by the GOP senators.

Paul and Lee had been blocking a vote. Paul was concerned about its effect on the deficit, while Lee wanted to ensure the fund has proper oversight in place to prevent fraud and abuse.

Gillibrand said 9/11 first responders and their families have had "enough of political games." The legislation has 74 Senate co-sponsors, including Gillibrand, and easily passed the House last week.

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

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the House-passed bill would result in about $10.2 billion in additional compensation payments over 10 years, including more than $4 billion for claims already filed.

As part of the deal, Democrats agreed to allow Lee and Paul to bring up amendments addressing their concerns. Gillibrand called the GOP amendments "needless and callous" and predicted they would be easily defeated.

"This (upcoming) vote is long overdue," she said at a news conference announcing the bipartisan deal. "No more excuses. We have to finish the job."

The agreement came as comedian Jon Stewart again blasted Republicans who have held up the bill. He said Wednesday night on Fox News Channel that it was "absolutely outrageous" that Paul blocked Gillibrand's request to approve the bill by acclamation earlier in the day.

Paul supported the 2017 GOP tax cut that added hundreds of billions of dollars to the national debt, "and now he stands up at the last minute ... to say we're going to balance the budget on the backs of the 9/11 first responder community," Stewart said.

Lee's amendment could force beneficiaries to return to the Capitol to ensure the fund does not run out of money, Stewart said, calling that "an abomination."

Lee said on the Senate floor Thursday that he is not blocking benefits for 9/11 first responders, but merely trying to ensure that "the program created in their honor in fact benefits them."

A spokeswoman for Paul said he is "not blocking anything. He is simply seeking to pay for ... this legislation."

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