Jon Stewart rips Congress on behalf of first responders

Jon Stewart rips Congress on behalf of first responders

By Robert Foreman

Comedian Jon Stewart went to Washington, but he wasn’t there to make anyone laugh. On the contrary, the former Daily Show host was pissed off and he made sure that Congressional lawmakers knew it. Stewart, along with many 9/11 first responders, had come to Capitol Hill to fight for the funds that were allocated to care for first responders in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Now, one would think that looking out for the first responders, who are dealing with a multitude of health issues stemming from 9/11, would be a no-brainer. However, this is Washington, D.C. where nothing is ever simple.

Congress had allocated well over $7 billion dollars to address the various health issues that first responders have endured. However, the money was only set aside through 2020 and the mounting claims from first responders who have endured Ground Zero health-related issues has strained the fund. In fact, there was a point where the amount of the payouts was being slashed. It is for that reason why Stewart, and the first responders, found themselves before the House Judiciary Committee. To add insult to injury, there were numerous members of Congress who did not even attend the hearing. Stewart, rightfully, said it was “shameful” that more lawmakers were not in attendance.

The often raw and emotional testimony given by Stewart, and some of the first responders, received widespread attention and praise. Perhaps, ‘shamed’ by the overwhelming media and public reaction the House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a bill the following day that would permanently reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. However, the battle is not over yet. The bill must still survive a full House vote and then be passed by the Senate. Any politician, regardless of political party, who votes against the bill can never stand before the American people with any credibility and claim to value the lives of first responders.

Thousands of American citizens lost their lives on 9/11 and those images that we saw play out on our televisions screens are forever burned into the nation’s psyche. I vividly remember worrying about my family and friends who were working in Lower Manhattan that day. Thankfully, none of them were hurt. However, there were many people who lost friends and loved ones, including first responders. Imagine what those first responders saw on that fateful day. As thousands of people were fleeing to safety, the police officers, firefighters and EMTs were racing toward the terror. They bravely did their jobs while some of their fellow first responders lost their lives. Yet they didn’t have the time to mourn their fallen brethren. They did their jobs of saving as many civilians as they could. Little did the surviving first responders realize that as they were working in the rubble that was once the Twin Towers that the toxic chemicals and fumes released that day would ultimately claim some of their lives years later.

One would think that a grateful nation would want to do everything in its power to help those 9/11 first responders. Stewart deserves to be applauded for his ongoing support of the first responders. However, neither he, nor the first responders, should have had to essentially shame Congress into doing the right thing. Congress should have done the right thing on their own and made taking care of the first responders a top priority. As a society, we often throw the term ‘hero’ around too freely. But those first responders who ran toward the chaos on 9/11 deserve that title. It’s as simple as that.

So, Congress, should treat them like the heroes that they are instead of forcing them to fight for the very funds that were promised to them. Many of these first responders survived the initial 9/11 attack in 2001, but nearly 20 years later they are fighting, and in some cases losing, the war against the health issues that were unleashed that day. We should allow these first responders to continue to fight their health battles with grace and dignity. Sparing them from having to trek to Capitol Hill to demand answers about how they are going to pay for their treatments is the very least that we as a country can do after the sacrifices they made on 9/11, and continue to make, on our behalf.