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Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson: Playing games with 9/11 first responders

Comic and activist Jon Stewart lends his support to firefighters, first responders and survivors of the September 11 terror attacks at a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee as it considers permanent authorization of the Victim Compensation Fund, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 11, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

 

DISCLAIMER: The following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of KSL Newsradio or its ownership.

Republican U.S. Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky blocked a bill to extend $10.2 billion in compensation to the victims and first responders of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand had asked for a unanimous consent request to pass the bill and send it to the president’s desk. A single senator can block any bill offered by unanimous consent.

Paul said he wants spending cuts elsewhere to offset renewing the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, citing the U.S. debt of $22 trillion.

A spokeswoman for Paul said the senator wasn’t seeking to block the bill, but rather to add a provision to pay for it. Paul’s office said he is proposing cutting $2 billion a year from other federal programs, including agriculture, housing, and mandatory spending.

The legislation passed the House last week 402-12, but without a measure to offset the $10.2 billion.

Lee said he was concerned about fraud and abuse in the fund, but he expected it to pass before the Senate’s August recess.

The Victim Compensation Fund was passed by Congress in 2011. It has paid about $5 billion to approximately 21,000 claimants. The fund is scheduled to stop taking claims in December 2020. The new legislation would extend the program for seven decades,  with an estimated cost of $10.2 billion for the first decade.

Lee wants to cap payouts for the next 10 years at the $10.2 billion estimate in the bill. He also wants to allow another $10 billion in payments for the remainder of the legislation, through 2092

“I am deeply disappointed that my colleague has just objected to the desperately needed and urgent bill for our 9/11 first responders,” said Gillibrand on Twitter. “Enough with the political games.”

“I understand there’s a concern about 72 years and my colleague believes it’s a recipe for trouble. But the truth is the timing is limited for this bill because these men and women aren’t going to survive,” Gillibrand said.

Games in D.C.

Boyd’s take: I get the emotion on all of this. I don’t know anyone in Washington, D.C., who would object to giving the 9/11 first responders everything they or their families need. This has turned into a classic Fake Fight and False Choice, which is what Washington does best.

You’re either hate first-responders and want to deny them their benefits or you’re just an out-of-control spender. Neither is true.

You keep hearing on the internet or cable TV news that Lee blocked the funding. He didn’t.

Gillibrand filed a motion to pass the bill by unanimous consent, which is the way a lot of the Senate work gets done without anyone having to cast a vote. But if any senator objects or wants to offer an amendment, the motion doesn’t pass by unanimous consent and then there has to be a debate and a vote, by which voters can hold members of Congress accountable.

The only thing blocked was unanimous consent for an uncapped program running for the next seven decades. Do we really want unlimited spending for a program with no real accountability?

This is a false choice about all or nothing. You can have compassion and accountability; they are not incompatible.

We have to get beyond the name-calling and focus on getting the 9/11 first responders and their families the resources they need. Let’s not make this into a fight between fiscal conservatives and liberal spenders. That misses the point — which is getting the funding for the victims done.

But Congress isn’t doing its job funding the government because no one wants to take a hard vote. Until the right people come together in Congress to build bridges instead of driving wedges, this will continue.

A fake fight followed by a false choice — that’s always the problem in Washington, D.C. We’ve seen it on immigration and health care. Accepting the headline that politicians don’t want to support the 9/11 first responders is not reality.

The funding is there, and it’s going to happen. But passing it by unanimous consent is not the way to do it. We elected those people to go back and vote. They need to do that so they can be held accountable for the stands they take.