Dec. 17, 2010 — -- Comedian Jon Stewart put the stalled 9/11 health bill center stage on his final show of the year, lambasting Senate Republicans for holding up passage of a bill that would provide billions of dollars in health care for sick 9/11 first responders.
"This is an outrageous abdication of our responsibility to those who were most heroic on 9/11," Stewart said. "The party that turned 9/11 into a catchphrase are now moving suspiciously into a convenient pre-9/11 mentality when it comes to this bill."
The bill, if passed, would provide $7.4 billion in health care benefits and compensation to first responders who became ill after being exposed to pollutants in the wreckage of New York's World Trade Center. The bill would create a fund for sick first responders, providing them with health insurance when their current insurance or worker's compensation payments were gone.
Earlier this year, the House passed the bill; but Senate Republicans continue to filibuster it. The last time it came up for a Senate vote – on December 9 – it fell two votes short of the 60 needed to advance, with senators voting strictly along party lines.
In a measure of solidarity and another jab at the White House, Senate Republicans took a pledge in September to not consider any other legislation before resolving taxes and funding.
On "The Daily Show," Stewart, at times nearly pulling at his hair, talked to a panel of 9/11 first responders.
"I would like to see one of these Senators have the balls to explain why somehow getting a tax cut extension for wealthy Americans is more important than suffering Ground Zero workers."
Late Wednesday, Congress passed an $858 billion tax cut package, extending Bush era tax cuts to all Americans for two years.
"Yes, that is astoundingly good news for firefighters that make over $200,000 a year," Stewart joked.
This isn't the first time that the bill has stirred high emotions. Last July, New York Rep. Anthony Weiner's fiery finger-pointing on the House floor became a viral hit.
"It's Republicans wrapping their arms around Republicans rather than doing the right thing on behalf of the heroes," Weiner screamed.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised to bring the bill to a vote before the end of the lame-duck session and before Republicans take over control of the House and make significant gains in the Senate.
9/11 First Responder Bill Vote Expected Next Week
Now that Republicans are no longer bound to their pledge to avoid voting on anything except issues of taxes and funding, some GOP senators are considering voting in favor of the 9/11 measure.
Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois has said he supports the bill. That leaves Democrats one vote short, putting all eyes on three Republican Senators who have hinted that they could support the bill – Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
The sticking point for the GOP Senators is finding a different way to offset the costs of the $7.4 billion measure. Sen. Collins said Thursday night that she will back the bill assuming it includes the "appropriate offsets."
"I support the 9/11 health bill on the merits, and I have talked with Sen. [Kirsten] Gillibrand about the need for legitimate ways of offsetting its cost, unlike those included in the House-passed bill," Collins said in a statement. "If the Majority Leader were to bring the bill to the floor with appropriate offsets, I would support the legislation."
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is hoping for "a Christmas miracle."
"I urge my Republican colleagues to end the filibuster, engage in an open and respectful debate, and let each senator decide for themselves whether the heroes and victims of September 11th deserve quality health treatment and appropriate compensation for their tremendous loss and sacrifice. The 9/11 heroes deserve an up or down vote," Gillibrand said.
One Democratic aide told ABC News today that they are confident that they can get the 60 votes needed to pass the bill.
However, if it passes the Senate, it will likely do so with changes, meaning the changed bill would be sent back to the House for another vote before moving to President Obama's desk to be signed into law.
With so few days left in the lame-duck session, that could be tough. The measure is expected to come up for a procedural vote on Monday morning.