Menendez: None of Us Should Leave Washington for the Holidays Without Renewing the 9/11 Health Bill

Menendez: None of Us Should Leave Washington for the Holidays Without Renewing the 9/11 Health Bill

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) today spoke on the Senate Floor to implore Congress to support 9/11 first responders, who were sickened as a direct result of exposure to the toxins at Ground Zero, and immediately reauthorize the James Zadroga Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act before leaving to go home for the holidays.

Menendez wrote the original Zadroga Act to extend the Victims Compensation Fund, which is set to lapse entirely next year if the reauthorization bill isn’t passed. He previously called on Congress to pass the reauthorization before the deadline expired at the end of September, with comedian Jon Stewart and fellow members of Congress in Washington, D.C., and with New Jersey leaders and first responders at a rally in Elizabeth, N.J.

His remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:

“At this time of year, as we approach the holidays, it is unconscionable that we would go home to celebrate with our families, without doing everything we can to make sure that we send a clear and unambiguous message to our first responders, in the name of New Jersey’s Jim Zadroga, that we will never forget what they did for our fellow citizens, for this nation, on that day that changed the world.

“We’re being told that we can’t pass this legislation because we have to pay for it when, in fact, we are providing tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans. When in fact we’re providing corporations huge tax benefits. When in fact we’re providing the wealthiest one percent whatever they need to increase their wealth and their fortunes, but the men and women who put their lives on the line on 9/11 and in the days that followed are waiting for Congress to act.

“None of us should leave Washington for the holidays without passing this bill.

“We should remember the immortal words of Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol: “I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on their journeys.” We should keep those words in mind as we approach the holidays and accept our profound, collective responsibility to act on this legislation.

“If we do not, and we continue to insist on pay-for provisions when we don’t insist on the same provisions when we provide benefits to the wealthiest Americans, and the wealthiest corporations, we should be ashamed of ourselves.

“There is still enough funding to pay out claims for roughly a year. But, the reauthorization bill that I cosponsored is needed to provide the security and reassurances to those First Responders that these critical programs will last longer than just what the next couple-of-months’ funding will provide. It also permanently lifts the statute of limitations on the Victims Compensation Fund to provide for those First Responders who need access beyond next year and, very importantly, it exempts these key programs from the budget sequestration cuts. The sequestration, which I voted against, imposes arbitrary and capricious cuts to funding that will continue to provide care and support to those 9/11 heroes who sacrificed everything to help those in need on that tragic day.

“The fact is, M. President, Congress must act. Let’s not wait for a public outcry before we ensure that these heroes receive the care and support they deserve. Let’s provide them and their families with a tangible wish for a happy and healthy holiday.

“With that, M. President, I yield the floor.”