Senate Majority Leader Says “Yeah” to Fully Funding 9/11 VCF

June 17, 2019
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HomeBlogSenate Majority Leader Says “Yeah” to Fully Funding 9/11 VCF

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) appeared on Fox and Friends this morning to discuss, in part, the Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Act.

The show’s hosts confronted Senator McConnell with 9/11 victim advocate Jon Stewart’s recent comments regarding the Senator’s alleged history of thwarting legislation to fund the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.

Last week Jon Stewart said:

“I want to make it clear that this has never been dealt with compassionately by Senator McConnell. He has always held out until the vary last minute, and only then, under intense lobbying and public shaming, has he even deigned to move on it.”

Senator McConnell’s response this morning was:

“We have never failed to address this issue, and we will address it again. I don’t know why he’s all bent out of shape, but we will take care of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund…There is no way we won’t address this problem appropriately, we have in the past, and we will again.”

When asked directly, “It will be fully funded?,” the Senate Majority Leader said “Yeah.”

As reported last week, the House Judiciary Committee approved the Never Forget the Heroes Act without changes by unanimous vote. We expect the bill to be reported to the House floor soon for a vote. Since the bill is sponsored by 321 House Representatives and requires only 218 votes to pass, we expect the bill to pass by a strong majority.

The ideal next steps after that will be to essentially repeat the process in the Senate: a committee hearing, followed by a committee vote, and then a vote on the Senate floor. However, while support in the House is overwhelming, so far only 43 Senators have co-sponsored the Never Forget the Heroes Act (less than the simple majority of 51). We expect the number of co-sponsors to increase as the House legislative process progresses.

As we explained recently, the Never Forget the Heroes Act is unlikely to be voted on unless the Senate Majority Leader allows a hearing. Historically, the Senate Majority Leader controls the hearing calendar.

During efforts to reauthorize the James Zadroga Health and Compensation Act in 2015, Senate Majority Leader McConnell prevented a hearing from being calendared, which meant it couldn’t be voted as a standalone bill on the Senate floor. The political term of art is that the bill was “killed in committee.”

This is what Jon Stewart alluded to in describing Senator McConnell’s approach as failing to act compassionately. The Zadroga Reauthorization bill was killed in committee despite the fact it had the support of 68 co-sponsors in the Senate. Instead, the 9/11 VCF received additional funding through that legislative session’s “omnibus budget,” which made the allocated amount part of a larger negotiation.

Ideally, the Never Forget the Heroes Act will pass as a standalone bill, instead of the 9/11 VCF receiving additional funding through the omnibus budget. A standalone bill would ensure that the 9/11 VCF is permanently authorized with proper funding. Budget funding may mean we need to do this all over again in 4 years.

So, it is a good sign that Senate Majority Leader said he would make sure the 9/11 VCF is fully funded, but it is unclear from his chosen language whether that means through the budget or as a vote on the Never Forget the Heroes Act as a standalone bill. Furthermore, words are one thing. Actions are another…