WATCH: Jon Stewart Goes to Bat (Again) for 9/11 First Responders
Updated On: Sep 18, 2015
NJ.com - WASHINGTON - Comedian Jon Stewart, whose "Daily Show" five years ago helped convince Congress to provide benefits and compensation to police officers and firefighters who suffered health problems after responding to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, came to Capitol Hill Wednesday to ask lawmakers to do it all over again.
Stewart and dozens of first responders rallied at the Capitol and then met with lawmakers to urge them to permanently renew the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which provides treatment and economic compensation for first responders who contracted health problems, including respiratory diseases and cancer, after working at World Trade Center and the other 9/11 sites.
"They have born this burden with integrity," Stewart said at a Capitol Hill press conference against a backdrop of dozens of firefighters and police officers, some with wheelchairs or canes. "They ask for only what they need."
Named for James Zadroga of North Arlington, a New York City police officer who died of a respiratory disease attributed to him breathing in dust at the World Trade Center site after 9/11, the legislation and the benefits it provides expire Sept. 30 without congressional action. All 14 New Jersey senators and representatives are among the co-sponsors.
More than 4,800 people in New Jersey are getting treatment under the act, according to one of the bill's sponsors, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-6th Dist.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee that has jurisdiction over the legislation.
In December 2010, Stewart featured four first responders on his show to highlight the need for the Zadroga bill. At Wednesday's press conference, lawmaker after lawmaker credited Stewart with helping to get that measure through Congress. "It's very humbling to hear your name mentioned like that," Stewart said.
A bipartisan group of senators and representatives, all from New Jersey, New York or Connecticut except Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), called on Congress to pass a permanent extension of the Zadroga act before it expires at the end of the month.
"Knock off the B.S. Let's get the job done," said U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.).
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said that lawmakers were quick to attend 9/11 memorial ceremonies but less quick to support the people who responded to the terrorist attacks.
"A grateful nation not only shows its gratitude and remembrance by going to a Sept. 11 memorial, it shows it by how we take care of the brave men and women that risked their lives that fateful day, and who now suffer as a result of the action they took," Menendez said.
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said there should have been no need for such a gathering because Congress should have acted without hesitation.
U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-9th Dist.), who called Zadroga a constituent and joined his father Joseph in May to push for the legislation's renewal, blamed the Republicans who control Congress for failing to advance the bill.
"Some of these Congress people are off their rockers," Pascrell said. "These people are irrational, unreasonable and out of their minds. And they're proving it."
King said he would pressure his colleagues to pass the legislation, noting that some of them seem to be more interested in shutting down the government than helping first responders.
"The Republican leadership has no excuse not to bring this up," King said. "I'm not looking for a fight. We're hoping persuasion will do."