By J.D. Durkin
During an interview with Cheddar Friday on Capitol Hill, former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart put the ball squarely in the court of Senate Leader Mitch McConnell to pass the permanent reauthorization of a 9/11 Victim's Compensation bill.
"All they have to do is pass it. It's necessary," Stewart said. "The CBO score was incredibly reasonable. But it was based on need. There's no reason to d**k around with this any way, whatsoever."
On Friday, the House of Representatives passed the bill — fully titled H.R. 1327 Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act — overwhelmingly 402-12. But as Stewart noted Friday, House passage was just the "semifinals": the finals are the Senate and McConnell.
Stewart caught many by surprise Friday when he said he wanted to be back on Capitol Hill in three weeks — Friday, August 2nd — for the final signing ceremony, a stunningly fast turnaround through the historically thorny high chamber. I asked why he put such a fast time frame on the bill's next steps. Stewart replied, "When we finally got [the responders] to meet with McConnell, he said we'll do it before the August recess. August 2nd is the Friday before the recess."
Stewart added later in our interview, "He accepted Lou Alvarez's badge. This is done," a reference to the NYPD badge of former Detective Luis Alvarez, who died June 28th, that responders gifted to McConnell weeks ago in good faith. "The Senate Majority leader was very clear that he was going to honor the commitment that he made to the responders when they met with him in the office," Stewart continued.
But the issue of protections for 9/11 first responders is not a new one for the former "Daily Show" star. By now, Jon Stewart is well-versed in the Swamp-ese that accompanies the weedy Congressional appropriations process; he smoothly conveys the backdoor blockades that have hampered the VCF negotiations in years past, so our conversation takes a turn to PAYGO — or pay-as-you-go — a term referring to a process Congress can use to pay for a bill by offsetting every dollar, usually by cutting some entitlement spending elsewhere. In this case, the price tag was announced just yesterday: $10.2 billion over 10 years.
Sources have told Cheddar that PAYGO consideration may be on the table to advance the bill through the Senate — a frustrating reality of the sausage-making Stewart dug into.
"What's Congress' job?" Stewart asks me. "Appropriations. So why do they look around like 'What's the PAYGO?' You're in Congress — the PAYGO is whatever the f*** you say it is. That's the PAYGO."
He continued by invoking the recent wave of farmer bailouts granted by the Trump administration in the wake of the White House trade disputes. "We got $25 billion for the farmers who are suffering from tariffs for one year. What was the PAYGO?" Stewart said. "We're asking for $10.2 billion over ten years. So, don't run a trillion dollar deficit and then all of a sudden say 'I don't know man, the 9/11 bill [is too steep]."
Stewart also revealed to Cheddar that during the last round of talks on Capitol Hill, he was willing to personally meet with McConnell, but that the Kentucky Republican refuted the idea. "He was the one that didn't want to have me there. It's not that I didn't want to go," he said, adding, "I would have absolutely gone. We have a case to make."