Jon Stewart criticises Congress over 9/11 emergency fund

Former Daily Show host hits out at members who failed to attend committee hearing

The comedian Jon Stewart slammed the absence of Congressional members during a hearing on reauthorising the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund in Washington as "shameful." Video: Reuters


Comedian Jon Stewart has hit out at US congress for failing to ensure that a victims’ compensation fund set up after the 9/11 attacks never runs out of money.

Mr Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 responders, angrily called out members of congress for failing to attend a hearing over a bill that would ensure the fund can pay benefits for the next 70 years.

Pointing to rows of empty seats at a House judiciary committee hearing room, Mr Stewart said “sick and dying” first responders and their families had come to Washington for the hearing, only to face a nearly deserted dais.

He called the non-attendance “an embarrassment to the country and a stain on the institution” of US congress.

Members said they supported the bill and were monitoring the hearing amid other congressional business.

Stewart was testifying before the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties about a renewal of the 9/11 first responders health care fund. Most of the panel’s 14 members were not in attendance.

“Where are they? It would be one thing if their callous indifference and rank hypocrisy was benign, but it’s not,” Stewart said. “Their indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity, time, one thing they’re running out of.”

The fund, originally approved for five years in 2010, provides medical treatment for emergency responders sickened by toxic dust inhaled at the World Trade Center site in New York in the days following the attack.

Republicans had balked at the price of the original legislation and as a compromise at the time, Democrats agreed to authorise the fund only for five years and cover the cost with an excise tax. That has set up a fight every five years to get Congress to renew the program.

Stewart criticised Congress for continuing to require the fund be renewed every five years – pointing to the panel’s top Republican Mike Johnson for saying that Congress has to balance other emergencies as well.

“I’m pretty sure what’s going to happen five years from now, more of these men and women are going to get sick and they are going to die and I am awfully tired of hearing that it’s a 9/11 New York issue,” Stewart said. “Al-Qaeda didn’t shout death to Tribeca.” – Agencies