Comedian Jon Stewart wasn't joking Tuesday when he furiously called out U.S. lawmakers who skipped a House hearing on a full compensation fund for September 11th first responders.
Stewart, a long-time advocate for 9/11 first responders, pointed to the empty chairs at the House Judiciary Committee and called them "an embarrassment to the country and a stain on this institution."
He accused House committee members of showing "utterly unacceptable disrespect" to the New York City emergency workers.
Lack of attendance explained?
Lawmakers frequently go in and out of committee hearings when there is other congressional business.
Republican Mike Johnson of Louisiana predicted the bill to fully fund the 9/11 compensation fund before it runs out of money will easily pass Congress.
But Stewart, speaking for thousands who are waiting for benefits, demanded to know "Why is this so hard and takes so damn long?"
More than $7 billion was placed in a fund to compensate firefighters, construction crews, police, and other emergency workers who rushed into the debris of the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001 — inhaling dust, smoke, chemicals, and other hazardous substances.
Many are suffering from breathing problems, digestive disorders, and lung and other cancers.
Justice Department warning
The Justice Department has warned that the fund is running out of money because there was no mechanism in Congress to make sure that does not happen before the entire program is set to expire next year.
Benefit payments have been slashed and about 21,000 claims are still pending.
Stewart and others are demanding Congress pass a bill ensuring the fund can continue to pay out for the next 70 years.