Comedian and former host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" Jon Stewart took a vastly different tone than his usual satirical schtick when he spoke on Capitol Hill about the need to reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), a measure that aims to provide health care benefits to first responders from the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.
The former "Daily Show" host has for years championed the cause of the survivors of the September 11 terror attacks, calling attention to the diseases contracted by first responders and others who breathed in the smoke from the Twin Towers. "Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders; and in front of me, a almost empty Congress". "Shameful, it's an embarrassment to this country and it is a stain on this institution", Stewart said. "Where are they?" asked Stewart.
"Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak - to no one", Stewart said of how few Congress members were present. "I should not be here with you, but you made me come".
In recent years, more and more 9/11 first responders have been diagnosed with illnesses that have been linked to their participation in rescue and recovery efforts following the September 11 attacks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During his scorching testimony, Stewart blasted the committee and Congress at large for their "callous indifference and rank hypocrisy".
"Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity: time, it's the one thing they're running out of". You all said you would never forget. The fund paid out $7 billion in damages when it originally operated from 2001 to 2003, was reopened in 2011 and extended for another five years in 2015. If the fund is not renewed, it will expire in 2020 and could run out of money before then.
Stewart also shamed Congress for its "disrespect" of the first responders, drawing a standing ovation after finishing a fiery speech by saying, "They did their jobs with courage, grace, tenacity, humility. Eighteen years later, do yours", Stewart told Congress.
"The plain fact is that we are expending the available funds more quickly than assumed, and there are many more claims than anticipated", said Rupa Bhattacharyya, the fund's special master. "If it's any comfort to you all, we know this bill is going to pass with an overwhelming landslide majority of the House, maybe unanimous".
Later in the hearing, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., defended lawmakers' attendance, noting that while some chairs were empty in the hearing, it was because the hearing was held before the committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties.
Stewart was in the same position four years ago, but the money in the fund has dried up as the number of cancer cases continues to grow.