John Stewart covered the Zadroga Act on The Daily Show, which protects 9/11 first responders who became sick with lung cancers from inhaling dust at Ground Zero containing toxins and asbestos.
Stewart had left his role as host of The Daily Show in August, but returned on Monday night to discuss how the 2011 Zadroga Act will expire if Congress cannot pass a long-term extension this week. The renewal would fund the program through 2025 and cost between $8-$11 billion.
Serious illnesses, such as mesothelioma cancer, are linked to the air inhaled at Ground Zero, which is why the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act was created in the first place. It provides health benefits, along with compensation, affecting an estimated 70,000 emergency personnel who survived the attacks.
An estimated 70% of the responders and cleanup crew developed lung conditions. Since 2002, there have been 2,300 cases of various forms of cancer for Ground Zero rescue and recovery volunteers.
Stewart devoted the episode to sharing his unsuccessful attempts to speak with members of Congress about getting the act extended. While there is ample support to get it passed, Republications could still influence the act’s death.
According to Stewart, House Speaker Paul Ryan will get on board because “ultimately, he is still human.” On the other hand, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is “unwilling to move the bill forward for purely political reasons. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky doesn’t give a shit about anything but politics.”
Interestingly enough, McConnell got a similar bill approved for sick workers in Kentucky—his home state. Yet, he halted the Zadroga Act from being included on a transportation bill that recently passed as a result of not receiving concessions for oil sales. More specifically, many Democrats blame him for blocking the program’s inclusion when he learned the highway bill would not lift the US ban on oil exports.
According to Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune, “there were a lot of attempts to add some extraneous items, but I think for the most part conferees try to keep it as much as possible confined to transportation priorities.” But he assured the act would be addressed and receive “a lot of bipartisan support.”
According to House Speaker Paul Ryan, the Zadroga Act is a top priority; it’s just unclear which approach is currently favored. First, it was said to be part of the $1.1 trillion spending bill. Then it was stated to be included in Congress-approved tax breaks. “We have not decided which vehicle it will be or what funding level, but it is something that we do not intend on getting done by the end of the year,” said Ryan.
Stewart has called upon the public to use hashtags such as #WorstResponders targeted at their representatives and McConnell.