The Senate gave final legislative approval Tuesday to a bill ensuring that a victims' compensation fund related to the Sept. 11 attacks never runs out of money. The 97-2 vote sends the bill to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it, the AP reports. The vote came after Democratic senators agreed to allow votes on amendments sponsored by two Republican senators who had been blocking the widely popular bill. The Senate easily defeated the amendments proposed by GOP Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky. The two men were the only senators who voted against the bill's final passage. Lee said he did not object to the bill, but wanted to ensure the fund has proper oversight in place to prevent fraud and abuse. Paul said he was concerned about its effect on the deficit. Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said 9/11 first responders and their families have had "enough of political games" that delayed passage of the bill for months.
The bill would extend through 2092 a fund created after the 2001 terrorist attacks, essentially making it permanent. The $7.4 billion fund is rapidly being depleted, and administrators recently cut benefit payments by up to 70%. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the House-passed bill would result in about $10.2 billion in additional compensation payments over 10 years, including more than $4 billion for claims already filed. Jon Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 responders who had sharply criticized Congress for failing to act, said Tuesday that his work on the bill "has been the honor of my life," adding: "We can never repay all that the 9/11 community has done for our country. But we can stop penalizing them. Today is that day." Gillibrand and other lawmakers credited Stewart for raising the profile of the issue and forcing a vote, prompting the comedian to reply sarcastically, "Yes, I think we can all agree I'm the real hero." (For 9/11 responders, an unwanted milestone.)