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Senate set to vote Tuesday on 9/11 victim fund bill

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Tuesday.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Tuesday. Credit: Getty Images/Justin Sullivan

WASHINGTON — The Senate will vote Tuesday on the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund extension and is expected to pass it, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday, after a deal was cut with two Republicans concerned about the bill’s cost.

The deal comes a day after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) blocked a bid by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to get a quick approval of the bill by unanimous consent as he and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) sought to force consideration of their amendments aimed at the fund’s spending.

“I am grateful that we now have this agreement on timing so that we can get to the floor next week and have an up-or-down vote on the 9/11 first responders and the health care they need,” Gillibrand said after Lee announced the deal on the Senate floor.

“What this does is it paves the way finally for what we've been waiting for a very, very long time, an up-or-down vote,” said Schumer (D-N.Y.). “There will be two amendments offered. We will oppose them. I don't think they have much of a chance of winning.”

Congress created the Victim Compensation Fund initially in 2001 for two years to compensate people or their heirs who were injured or killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Congress revived and expanded the fund in 2011 and reauthorized it for five years in 2015.

The fund currently in running low on money and has cut awards by as much as 70 percent. Unless reauthorized, it will stop accepting applications in December 2020.

The deal that allows next week’s vote — approved by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — calls for two hours of debate on Lee’s amendment capping the Victims Compensation Fund at $10.2 billion for the first 10 years and $10 billion beyond that, and Paul’s amendment cutting spending in other areas to pay for the funding.

Each amendment needs 60 votes to pass and no other amendments will be allowed.

Lee defended his block and concerns with the legislation when he announced the vote.

“It does not specify a dollar amount,” Lee said. “This is a recipe for trouble.”

But Lee and Paul said they expect the bill to pass. The legislation easily passed the house last week.

Schumer and Gillibrand credited the first responders who came to Washington, despite their cancers and illnesses, to knock on lawmakers’ doors. And they also  singled out activist John Feal of Nesconset for his tenacious lobbying and former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart for spotlighting the issue.

Stewart and Feal  on Fox News Wednesday night blasted Paul and Lee  for objecting to Gillibrand’s request for unanimous consent to approve the bill  in order to demand attention to their amendments.

“Pardon me if I’m not impressed in any way by Rand Paul’s fiscal responsibility virtue signaling,” Stewart said. Feal called Paul and Lee “bottom feeders.”

Stewart condemned Paul for voting for the $1.5 trillion tax cut that “added hundreds of billions of dollars to our deficit” and now is trying to “balance the budget on the backs of the 9/11 first responder community.”

Paul on Thursday shot back on Fox News, calling Stewart a “guttersnipe” and accused him of lying about his tax-cut vote. Paul said he voted for it only when it included a requirement that spending be cut to pay for any shortfall from the tax cuts.

 And he said he would vote no on the Victim Compensation Fund.

“This bill is completely irresponsible,” Paul said. “We’re going to have a spending bill that says you spend whatever you want until 2092, it doesn’t matter how good the cause is.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the fund will cost $10.18 billion for the first 10 years of its extension but could not determine the cost for its next six decades of the fund’s authorization through 2092.

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