A Republican senator blocked a bipartisan bill that would have made sure that a fund providing compensation to 9/11 workers would remain viable until 2090.
Rand Paul of Kentucky questioned the bill's 70-year time frame and said any new spending should be offset by corresponding cuts so the U.S. government's $22 trillion debt does not continue to grow.
"It has long been my feeling that we need to address our massive debt in the country," Paul said on the Senate floor Wednesday. "And, therefore, any new spending ... should be offset by cutting spending that's less valuable. We need to at the very least have this debate."
Presidential hopeful New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand had offered the bill for unanimous consent, which would have fast-tracked its approval.
Under Senate rules, an objection from a single senator can block a measure offered via unanimous consent, which is what Paul did.
A spokesperson for Paul later told The Hill that Paul "is not blocking anything," adding that he is "simply seeking to pay for it."
The bill, which easily passed in the House last month, would extend though 2092 a victims compensation fund, essentially making it permanent.
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.
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 awaiting a decision.
Gillibrand said she was "deeply disappointed" by Paul's action.
"Enough of the political games. Our 9/11 first responders and our entire nation are watching to see if this body actually cares. Do we care about the men and women who answer the call of duty?" she asked in an emotionally charged speech.
"Thousands of those men and women have died," she said. Others still have to "face the terrifying reality that they are going to die because of what they did on 9/11 and the months thereafter."
Gillibrand and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer have asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring up the bill for a vote before Congress goes on its August recess.