Editor’s note: The following is an exchange that occured on the floor of the United States Senate Wednesday between Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, and Rand Paul, R-KY. The motion at hand was to unanimously approve a bill entitled: The Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand: Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that, as if in legislative session, the Senate proceed to calendar number 153 H.R.1327, that the bill be considered read a third time and passed and the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table with no intervening action or debate.
Mr. President: Objection.
Sen. Rand Paul:: Mr. President?
Mr. President: Senator from Kentucky.
Paul: Mr. President, in the right to object. It has long been my feeling that we need to address our massive debt in this county, we have a 22-trillion-dollar debt, we are adding debt at about $1 trillion dollars a year, and therefore any new spending that we are approaching, any new program that is going to have the longevity of 70-80 years should be offset by cutting spending that is less valuable. We need to at the very least have this debate, I will be offering up an amendment if this bill should come to the floor but until then I will object.
Mr. President: Objections heard.
Gillibrand: Mr. President?
Mr. President: Senator from New York.
Gillibrand: I am deeply disappointed that my colleague has just objected to the desperately needed and urgent bill for our 9/11 first responders. A bipartisian bill that just earned over 400 votes in the US House of Representatives and has 73 cosponsors in this chamber. Enough of the political games! Our 9/11 first responders and the entire nation are watching to see if this body actually cares.
When our country was attacked, and the entire world looked on in shock, and many people rightfully sought to get away as quick as they can as those towers began to crumble.
There was one group of men and women – our heroes, the bravest among us – who ran the opposite way. They ran towards danger, they raced up towers, they went into harm’s way to answer the call of duty.
And then in the days and weeks that followed, the months and months that followed, life slowly began to return to normal for the rest of the country.
But at Ground Zero, nothing was normal.
The pile – It kept burning. It was smoldering. You could smell it. Blocks and blocks, ten blocks, twenty blocks, thirty blocks away.
Men and women kept going to that pile to do the very hard work of first trying to find survivors, and then of course just trying to find remains and doing all the hard work of cleaning up. They dove in, they got to work, they wanted to help our country heal.
And now, more than 18 years have actually passed, and thousands of those men and women have actually died. Thousands more are getting sick. They’re getting grueling, painful diseases like cancer, and they are now dying.
Why? Because they did the work at Ground Zero that we asked them to do, and it made them very sick.
The air they breathed. The smoke. Burning metal, crushed glass, crushed electronics, toxins breathed in that the EPA told them the air was safe.
These heroes have since had to quit their jobs, doing the jobs that they loved, providing for the families they love, because they’re too sick. They’ve had to give up their income. They’ve had to give up their dreams. They’ve had to give up their future.
Even though thousands of 9/11 first responders are sick, and even more will become sick, they still had to come back. Even though some of these diseases are lifetime diseases.
More will die and now sadly the fund is running out.
And once again, sick and dying first responders are being forced to come here to knock on our office doors to remind members of Congress what they did on that day, and the weeks and months since.
And to tell them their personal stories of how painful it is to lose everything you love: First your ability to work, then your ability to play with your kids, then the ability to eat, and then the ability to breathe.
So I believe we have a responsibility, a sacred responsibility, that anyone in this chamber who has any sense of decency, compassion, or patriotism would listen to our first responders and give them what they need: A permanent compensation program, so that these men and women never have to spend another moment in these hallways again.
We could pass this bill right now.
But instead, my colleague has objected, asking people to come back, over and over.
Everyone loves to point fingers in this place. Well there’s nowhere else to point that finger today than this chamber.
The House has already passed the bill overwhelmingly. 402 to 12. That’s about as bipartisan as it gets.
And shame on those 12 members who voted no.
The same bipartisan bill, the one I just called on my colleagues to pass, already has 73 cosponsors. 73. When was the last time that happened?
And I want to say how grateful I am to my Republican colleague from Colorado, Senator Gardner, for leading this bipartisan bill with me.
Mr. President, in these divided times, what other bill can you imagine would have so much support by both parties.
Enough is enough. We should have passed this bill today. We should have passed this bill today. And I hope we can pass this bill with no further delay. I yield the floor.