Senate approves bill to extend 9/11 victims fund
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate gave final legislative approval today to a bill ensuring that a victims' compensation fund related to the Sept. 11 attacks never runs out of money.
The 97-2 vote sends the bill to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.
The vote came after Democratic senators agreed to allow votes on amendments sponsored by two Republican senators who had been blocking the widely popular bill. The Senate easily defeated the amendments proposed by GOP Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Lee and Paul voted against the bill's final passage.
Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said 9/11 first responders and their families have had "enough of political games" that delayed passage of the bill for months.
"Our 9/11 heroes deserve this program as written," Gillibrand said. "Let our heroes go home and live in peace and finally exhale."
The bill would extend through 2092 a fund created after the 2001 terrorist attacks, essentially making it permanent. The $7.4 billion fund is rapidly being depleted, and administrators recently cut benefit payments by up to 70 percent.
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.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the bill guarantees "once and for all that the heroes who rushed to the towers 18 years ago will no longer have to worry about compensation for their families when they're gone."
First responders "won't have to return to Congress anymore to fight for the compensation they always should have been given," Schumer said. "They will be able to go home, attend to their illnesses, their family members, their friends. That's what they always wanted to do, just take care of themselves and their families."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who been the subject of withering attacks from comedian Jon Stewart and other activists, also hailed passage of the bill.
The legislations makes "solemn commitments" to firefighters, police officers and other first responders who "rushed selflessly toward the World Trade Center" just moments after the 2001 terrorist attacks began, McConnell said.