Posts Tagged ‘fire fighters’

How Jon Stewart & Shep Smith Got the 9-11 First Responders Bill Passed

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Another story I didn’t get to during the holidays:

The role of Jon Stewart and Shepard Smith in getting the Zadroga bill passed.

The Zadroga bill funds health care and other benefits for 9-11 first responders and others who helped clean up the Ground Zero site in the aftermath of 9-11. You would think that, as much as the Republican’s used 9-11 as a political cudgel against the Democrats for the past 9 years, they would wholehaertedly support the idea of taking care of the America’s heroes…and if they didn’t support it, that they would easily be shamed by the Democrats to support the bill.

But if you thought those things, you would be wrong. The bill was brought up in the House in July but didn’t pass due to partisan manuvering on both sides. It finally did pass the House in September, but the Senate had not taken it up before the election and the Democrats wanted to pass it during the lame duck session. In an amazing display of party unity (not to mention chutzpah), the Republicans sucessfully filibustered aid to 9-11 first responders, so that they could get tax cut extentions for the top 2% of earners.

After they got those tax cuts passed, they then said that they didn’t have time for the bill and that it would have to be put off until the new Congress was sworn in (which would make it significantly more difficult for passage). With the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal and the START treaty also on the docket, many pundits declared the Zadroga bill dead.

Jon Stewart had actually been on this issue early in the process, covering the partisan bickering that caused it to fail in the house initially, but with the prospects for passage becoming increasingly dim, Stewart featured it in December. His initial piece included a parade of Republican politicians who had invoked their sacrifice of 9/11 first responders to score political points, but refused to support a fund to help them deal with terminal illnesses they developed while inhaling that toxic air. The hypocrisy was stunning. Before he signed off for the year, Stewart dedicated his entire last show to the bill.

The show started with an into that explained the situation, focusing specifically on the almost complete lack of media coverage, but especially Fox, who had cranked up their 9-11 outrage machine so many times before to support Republican political goals.  

Then, in some of the most powerful television I have ever seen, Stewart interviewed a panel of  four 9-11 first responders who were terminally ill.

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9/11 First Responders React to the Senate Filibuster
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Stewart asked them to respond to clips of Senator Mitch McConnel sheding tears about the retirement of fellow senator, Judd Gregg, and Senator Jon Kyl saying that Harry Reid holding the Senate in session after the Christmas holiday would be disrespectful to Christmas itself. Watching these terminally ill guys respond to those clips with their dry New York City wit and their calm dignity was devastatng.

Poor Mike Huckabee didn’t even get a chance to plug his children’s book, as Stewart grilled him about why Fox hadn’t cranked up their 9-11 outrage machine on this issue.

The next day, Shep Smith at Fox News took up the torch for Jon Stewart, speaking passionately to Mike Wallace about how outrageous it was that help for the heroes of 9-11 was being blocked so that “we could give tax cuts to Warren Buffett.”

The next Monday, Shep was at it again, pointing out that, since his show is on Fox, they are able to get call backs from Republican legislators, and then proceeding to name every single senator who had refused to come on his show to discuss this.

On Tuesday, New York Senator’s Kirsten Gilibrand and Chuck Schumer announced that they had the votes to block a filibuster and would pass it during the lame duck session. Later in that day Senator Tom Coburn announced that he had put an anonomous block on the legislation in an attempt to run out the clock on the lame session and kill the bill (Coburn had claimed that this was being passed without any hearings, but as Rachel Maddow pointed out, the hearings actually took place in Coburn’s Committee.)

Shep Smith called out Senator Coburn directly, saying:

this is the picture of Senator Tom Coburn, Republican from Oklahoma… he is the man who is trying to slow this down or block it, so that the necessary  funding for the ilnesses of the first responders who made it to Ground Zero to try to save lives on the day that America changed, remember? This is the senator who is vowing to block it, so that it doesn’t make it through: Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma.

Apparently, the Republicans got the message and realized that, if they couldn’t get Fox News to support them, they were really on the wrong side of this issue.

The bill (with $2 billion less in it and some changes in the funding) passed the Senate the next day by voice vote.

After the holiday, Stewart had Kirsten Gillibrand on his show and she thanked him for his advocacy on the issue. Stewart demurred, saying that he just did the obvious thing, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that this bill probably would not have passed if not for the work that both Jon Stewart and Shep Smith did to put pressure on the Republicans.