Jon Stewart joined a group of 9/11 first responders and New York lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday in an effort to convince Congress to permanently extend a federal law offering health care to rescue workers injured or sickened in the September 11th, 2001 attacks.
“I want to apologize to all the men and women, first responders, that you had to come down here today,” Stewart said prior to entering Congress, the New York Times reports. “I’m embarrassed. I’m embarrassed for our country. I’m embarrassed for New York. I’m embarrassed that you, after serving so selflessly with such heroism, have to come down here and convince people to do what’s right for the illnesses and difficulties that you suffered because of your heroism and because of your selflessness.”
The law – the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act – was named after a NYPD officer who died of respiratory failure stemming from the September 11th attacks. Congress passed the law in December 2010, where it was subsequently enacted by President Obama in January 2011. The bill allocated $4.2 billion to create the World Trade Center Health Program. Stewart played a major role in supporting the bill in 2010, often featuring first responders and their ailments on The Daily Show.
The Zadroga act is set to expire in October. Additionally, the first responders who ventured to D.C. asked that the deadline to apply for those funds be extended past October 2016. The deadline was initially entered into the bill as a compromise with conservative Republican lawmakers, but subsequent years have revealed that some asbestos-related cancers caused by Ground Zero could take decades to emerge, the USA Today reports. If the deadline to apply isn’t extended indefinitely, those first responders could eventually be stuck shouldering that financial burden.
A veteran of how Washington D.C. works, Stewart warned the group that, when entering Congress, they “will be exposed to possibly toxic levels” of “bullshit.” Stewart that chastised Congressional members, “By the way, a lot of these guys are sick. The last thing they need to do is come down here and have to beg for what they’re owed.”
Reps for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, and Speaker John Boehner of Ohio told USA Today that Congress was working toward renewing the Zadroga Act but were noncommittal on specific details.