ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports:
While 9/11 first responders celebrated today’s Senate passage of a bill to provide them with $4.2 billion in health benefits and compensation, some voiced unhappiness that it took Jon Stewart’s focus on the issue to put a national spotlight on it.
“It really is a shame that it had to come to this,” said Bill Romaka of the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York. “It’s a shame that it had to come from someone on a comedy channel to make this an issue.”
Stewart devoted a show last Thursday to the 9/11 health bill, just after it had been shot down by the Senate at a Dec. 9 procedural vote. Stewart’s attention to the bill led to an increase in coverage by the national media.
Now that the bill has passed the Senate – and is set to pass the House in the coming hours – its supporters in Congress today reveled in the glow of their recent success.
“Our Christmas miracle has arrived,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, as she stood at a press conference with fellow lawmakers and a slew of first responders.
Gillibrand was joined on Capitol Hill in the fight for the measure by fellow New York Democrat Chuck Schumer.
“Today is an amazing day,” Schumer said. “It's a great day, of course, for those who are ill. Now at least they know they'll be taken care of. It's a great day for New York and New Jersey, because we were the ones hit. And America rose to the occasion. But most of all, beyond any of the amazing individual stories that brings tears to our eyes, this is a great day for America.”
John Feal, founder of the FealGood foundation, a non-profit organization that has pushed for the bill’s passage, was thrilled at today’s progress.
“It is because of everybody’s hard work that this Christmas will be the best Christmas that I have ever known,” Feal said.
At the same time as the New York lawmakers and first responders were holding their press conference, the Senate’s top Republican Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor to emphasize that GOP senators had never opposed helping the first responders. Instead, McConnell stated, they had opposed the earlier version of the bill that existed before lawmakers reached a bipartisan agreement this morning to lower the bill’s cost and change certain features of it.
“Some have tried to portray this debate as a debate between those who support 9/11 workers and those who don’t,” McConnell said. “This is a gross distortion of the facts. There was never any doubt about supporting the first responders – it was about doing it right.
Once Gillibrand and Schumer agreed early today to revisions of the bill with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, the measure quickly sailed through the Senate in the final hours before the lame-duck session came to an end.