WASHINGTON -- Jon Stewart ratcheted up pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to reauthorize the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund in a late-night television appearance Monday night.
On "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," the comedian continued to lobby for restoring payments to 9/11 responders and survivors who face medical bills and lost compensation. Stewart gave emotional testimony to the House Judiciary Committee last week, urging the Kentucky Republican to reauthorize the shrinking fund, and not use it as a bargaining chip.
"Honestly Mitch McConnell, you really want to go with the 'we'll get to it when we get to it' argument for the heroes of 9/11?" Stewart said. "You love the 9/11 community when it serves your political interests. But when they're in urgent need you slow-walk. You dither. You use it as a political pawn to get other things you want."
Stewart's appeal comes at a critical juncture for the fund.
The number of claimants has climbed as people exposed to toxins in the wake of the attacks have sought help for latent health problems. The fund received a record number of requests in 2018 and is on pace to eclipse that record this year -- "a harbinger of the increasing seriousness of 9/11-related illnesses," according to fund director Rupa Bhattacharyya.
But more than $5 billion of the $7.38 billion reserve has already been depleted. Fund officials began slashing compensation by as much as 70% in February in anticipation of a shortfall.
But McConnell brushed off the urgency of shoring up the fund in an interview with Fox News' "Fox & Friends" Monday morning.
"We've never failed to address this issue and we will address it again. I don't know why he's so bent out of shape," the Kentucky Republican said, referring to Stewart.
Stewart pushed back on his CBS appearance.
"If you want to know why the 9/11 community is so 'bent out of shape' over the last, let's call it 18 years: Meet with them tomorrow, as soon as possible, and don't make them beg," Stewart said.