Responders from 9/11 are protesting Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader, who has been accused of single-handedly stalling the renewal of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.
Roughly two dozen responders stormed McConnell’s office on Dec. 2 to demand their health benefits be continued as soon as possible.
Many of the 9/11 responders — firefighters, police officers and volunteering citizens — who sifted through the rubble of the Twin Towers are now ailing due to their prolonged exposure to hazardous fumes. Some have become terminally ill while others have died from health complications.
The Zadroga Act was passed in 2010 to provide health monitoring and treatment for the responders. The program will expire in 2016 unless renewed by Congress.
A bill that would male the program permanent has bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. It was expected to be included in a five-year highway bill. Majority Leader McConnell has allegedly blocked the provision from being included after his request that the highway bill also include a motion to lift the U.S. ban on oil exports was rejected, NBC News reports.
"I believe that Senator McConnell was using this as a negotiating position — give us something, we'll give you help for the 9/11 rescue workers," says Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate minority whip, according to NBC News.
The current plan is for the Zadroga Act to be included in the upcoming government spending omnibus. Pieces of the program have already expired as the clock ticks away to preserve it.
Some members of Congress have suggested the program be passed as its own bill rather than a provision attached to a bigger legislation.
“This needs to be done as a stand-alone bill,” says Republican Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas, according to The Hill. "The reauthorization of this bill is far too important to be rolled into a package at the end of the year. The first responders are undoubtedly heroes in the eyes of America. They at least deserve to have their bill heard individually.”
Former host of “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart, who was a vocal advocate for the Zadroga Act in 2010, lobbied on behalf of the responders in September 2015.
“It’s literally the least that we can do," says Stewart, according to NBC News. "That they don't have to be insecure about the medicine they are going to need to treat illnesses that have been scientifically shown — doctors here — and studies have shown links to 9/11."
A group of responders interrupted McConnell’s office, protesting the majority leader’s decision to turn their health into a political football, The Huffington Post reports.
"It's sheer delay, delay, delay,” former NYPD officer Anthony Flammia told The Huffington Post. “They say they're for us — the staff says they're for us — then get it done. We were here hoping to get a bill done. I mean, we're upset, we're visibly upset. It's typical, typical Washington, D.C., gridlock."
"I've got stickers on my truck that say 'Never forget,’” said former New York firefighter Paul Iannizzotto, whose lungs no longer fully function on their own, according to The Huffington Post. “I sign everything, 'Never forget.' Ya can't forget, but they do. That's why we're here. That's why we're here today.”