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Sen. Mike Lee secures vote on 9/11 victims fund bill amid criticism from bill advocates

By Carter Williams, | Updated - Jul 18th, 2019 @ 6:20pm | Posted - Jul 18th, 2019 @ 11:02am

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has secured a vote for a 9/11 first responders compensation bill next week.

Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, Lee said he met with officials from both parties and secured a vote for Tuesday. There, senators will vote on the bill, as well as two amendments brought up for the bill by Lee and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky.

That announcement came a day after he filed an amendment that would adjust a bill to fund the 9/11 first responders compensation. In a statement issued Thursday morning, Lee explained the amendment would alter a current bill for 9/11 responders to allocate $10.18 billion toward the fund for the next 10 years, which is “the exact same amount the Congressional Budget Office estimated the program will need.” He argued the current bill would authorize the program through 2092 with no cap on funding.

Hours later on the Senate floor, Lee said he secured a vote for the bill itself, as well as the two amendments. The vote was delayed until next week because not everyone was in a position to vote Thursday, officials from Lee's office said.

"This is something that we could vote on in a matter of minutes, 15 minutes or so, and then move on to final passage. We could, in fact, accomplish all of this today before we adjourn for the weekend," Lee said on the Senate floor. "This is, in fact, what I would prefer. I think finishing our work on this bill to protect victims and first responders is worth 15, 20, 30 minutes of our time."

On Wednesday, the same day as Lee's proposal, comedian Jon Stewart and 9/11 first responder John Feal blasted both Lee and Paul during an interview on Fox News. They accused the senators of stalling the bill that would continue to fund a program to pay for medical expenses for those who responded to the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon or Shanksville, Pennsylvania, during attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Stewart has been a leading advocate for funding the program. Last month, he testified in front of Congress in favor of a bill that would continue to fund the program. The bill cleared the House of Representatives with a 402-12 vote last week; all four of Utah’s House representatives voted in favor of it. The Associated Press noted the bill has 74 co-sponsors in the Senate, as well. However, Lee and Paul voiced opposition of the bill due to its length before funding would run out.

“Last night Jon Stewart said he believed a billion dollars a year for 10 years was a reasonable request for 9/11 first responders. I agree,” Lee said in his statement Thursday morning.

“I do not want to stop the bill’s consideration and believe we can and should address the health needs of those first responders of the ‪9/11 attack. I simply want to ensure that Congress has some continued oversight to ensure the fund continues to follow the law as intended," Lee’s statement continued. “We have seen too many times government programs divert from their intended use when Congress abdicates its oversight role.”

On Thursday, Feal doubled down his criticism of Lee during an appearance on KSL Newsradio’s “Dave & Dujanovic." which put more pressure on Lee.

“Mike Lee is so irrelevant. … Mike Lee and Rand Paul can try to make amendments, and they’re going to get shot down, and they’re going to be shown to be the little insignificant people that they are,” Feal said on the show. “I’m not saying this to be rude or disrespectful, but they’re disrespecting tens of thousands of people who are sick and dying right now. It’s my job as a mouthpiece of the 9/11 community to let America know that these men — they’re not even liked by their colleagues. Nobody wants to see them succeed. Utah, you deserve better.”

Feal said Lee’s office told advocates for the bill he wouldn’t get in the way during a meeting in May. He added Lee also cried in front of the group during a meeting in 2015, saying he knew what the group was going through because his mother had battled cancer.

In addition, Feal accused Lee of cherry-picking fiscal policies to stand by based on voting for a federal tax cut in 2017 that has added to a federal deficit. He said he’s willing to go after any politician regardless of political affiliation, and that the bill presented put people over parties. That’s why he decided to call out Lee and Paul.

“Either stick to your values or don’t, and he hasn’t stuck to any values. He’s all over the map,” Feal said on the show. “Why he’s doing this, I don’t know. It makes no sense. … I don’t care who you are, just don’t be an a-hole, and Mike Lee is being an a-hole right now.”

Salt Lake City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall also issued a statement Thursday morning calling on Lee to stop holding up the bill. She said 20 of 62 firefighters from Utah who traveled to New York after the terrorist attacks in 2001 were from the Salt Lake City Fire Department.

"While they were there, they breathed in a number of toxic substances that have reportedly caused 40 of those Utah firefighters to develop serious health problems, including at least 17 with cancer," she said. "Their senator, Mike Lee, is preventing them from receiving federal support for those illnesses. It's outrageous."

During his eight-minute speech on the Senate floor, Lee stood by his amendment proposal.

"This is how the Senate is supposed to work. Each member is supposed to have the opportunity to bring forth amendments to offer up improvements to legislation to make sure they happen and happen right," he said.

Contributing: Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic, KSL Newsradio

Editor's note: A previous version of this story said Sen. Mike Lee had reversed course and asked for unanimous consent. Instead, Sen. Lee secured a vote for Tuesday.

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