Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart joined several dozen 9/11 first responders on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning to push Congress to pass a permanent extension of a bill to compensate those who became sick after working at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Parts of the bill, known as the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, will start to expire in October. The bill in its entirety loses funding by the fall of 2016.
“I’m embarrassed for our country, for New York, that you after serving so selflessly have to come down here and convince people to do what's right,” Stewart said looking at the crowd filled with firefighters and police officers who are suffering from illnesses caused from helping at Ground Zero after the attacks 14 years ago.
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The effort to extend the bill — lead by New York Democrats Rep. Carolyn Maloney in the House and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in the Senate — has secured 151 total sponsors, including 33 Republicans, but is still facing an uphill battle in Congress.
Some fiscal conservatives believe that the funds should come from specific programs and do not support 9/11 specific legislation. Also, the congressional calendar is packed this fall, with lawmakers struggling to fund the government, the highway trust fund and raise the nation's debt limit.
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Leadership aides tell NBC News that those issues take precedent at the moment.
“The idea that with cancer we have to bring them down here every five years to beg for the benefits, it’s the least the we can do,” Stewart told NBC News. “It’s literally the least that we can do. That they don’t have to be insecure about the medicine they are going to need to treat illnesses.”
Stewart said he wants members of Congress to remember that first responders where some of the first veterans from the “war on terror”.
“We are going in offices where they tweet on 9/11: ‘never forget.’ Well, guess who they forgot? I mean the disconnect is jarring and shocking and you can sit in their office and they will say to you ‘oh yea no, we absolutely support our first responders.’ But you’re not,” Stewart said.
He also offered a stern warning for first responders before they went off to walk the halls of Congress.
“Today on the hill you will be exposed to possibly toxic levels of bullshit and arrogance,” he said.
The comedian, who has long been a key advocate for this cause, says while it’s “insanity” they are even still talking about this on Capitol Hill, he still has hope.
“I refuse to despair as long as I see the heart and courage and dedication of the men and women standing behind me.”
It seems there might actually be movement on the legislation sooner than later.
“We do plan to extend the program, and the committees of jurisdiction - the House and Senate - are actually working on the details now,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer called McConnell’s comments “a very bright glimmer of hope.”
“If Congress can’t come together and help the first responders who are ill because they rushed to the towers then we may as well forget this place altogether,” Schumer said. “This is really a glimmer, a very bright glimmer of hope on something so important to thousands who are dying of cancers and other diseases.”