9/11 victims bill passes House panel after Jon Stewart's plea receives standing ovation

Lily Puckett

The House Judiciary Committee has unanimously passed a bill which would permanently reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund on Wednesday.

The decision comes the day after comedian Jon Stewart appeared before the committee with an impassioned testimony in support of the Fund.

The bill is a response to a February announcement that future payouts from the Fund would be cut by as much as 70 percent to offset surging claims from those who are ill, as well as from the families of those who have died already.

In a speech that quickly drew praise online and elsewhere, Mr Stewart called the House’s involvement “shameful,” calling attention to how few members of congress had appeared to hear him and meet the many 9/11 first responders accompanying him.

“None of these people want to be here,” Mr Stewart said of those behind him during the speech. “But they are, and they’re not here for themselves… They’re here to continue fighting for what’s right.”

The fund was established in 2011 to compensate for deaths and illnesses linked to toxic exposure at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after terrorists crashed four hijacked airliners on the morning of September 11, 2001. Mr Stewart, who has been in New York City for the extent of his career, has long been a champion for 9/11 first responders.

The bill will now go to the floor for a full vote in the House of Representatives, where it is likely to pass.

It's unclear whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will take up the bill in the Senate, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Wednesday that he was "imploring, pleading, even begging" the Republican to bring the bill to the floor as soon as it passes in the House.

“We will reach the point soon, most likely this year, when more will have died from 9/11-related illnesses than on 9/11 itself,” Mr Schumer said Wednesday. “I say to Leader McConnell: This is not politics. This is not a game. These are our heroes, American heroes, who are suffering and need our help.”