9/11 compensation fund good but debt must be addressed

Most people old enough to see it happen remember where they were when the Twin Towers fell.

For many of us Americans, Sept. 11, 2001, will forever be a day of tragedy, one which rouses fearful memories of our country’s vulnerability to terrorism, and painful memories for the tremendous loss of life that occurred that day in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

It will also be a day many first responders remember as one that changed their lives forever.

Those people — police officers, firefighters, paramedics and others — rushed to Ground Zero that fateful morning, searching through the dense, heavy clouds of dust and the mounds of rubble and debris for survivors, anyone they could find still clinging to life.

What they didn’t know, or didn’t concern themselves with, was the toxic materials they were putting in their bodies.

Congress recently approved legislation to ensure that a 9/11 victims’ compensation fund never runs out of money, and President Trump is expected to sign it into law, a move we can wholeheartedly support.

But there was some opposition to funding that compensation because of our national debt and deficit, and it’s an argument worth noting, even if it was made at a terrible time.

In the years since the 9/11 attack, many of these first responders have seen their health decline, some with respiratory or digestive-system ailments that appeared almost immediately, others with illnesses that developed as they aged, including cancer, The Associated Press reported.

More than 40,000 people have applied to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which covers illnesses potentially related to being at the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon or Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after the attacks.

But the fund is rapidly being depleted, and administrators recently cut benefit payments by up to 70%, according to the AP story.

More than $5 billion in benefits have been awarded out of the $7.4 billion fund, with about 21,000 claims pending.

The bill headed to Trump’s desk would extend through 2092 the fund created after the 2001 attacks, essentially making it permanent.

The independent Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would result in about $10.2 billion in additional compensation payments over 10 years, including more than $4 billion for claims already filed.

It’s a small price to pay considering what these people did for our country.

The House passed the legislation by a vote of 402-12 earlier this month, and the Senate gave its support with a 97-2 vote on Tuesday. One of the senators opposing it was Rand Paul, R-Kentucky.

Paul has caught some heat for his dissenting vote, but he raises one major point that must be mentioned: our national debt.

First off, let’s be clear in saying Paul picked the wrong piece of legislation to oppose. The people who put their lives on the line following the 9/11 attack deserve the highest respect from our country, and that includes financial compensation.

However, his stance on holding government spending in check should be a principal concern for all lawmakers and politicians, from municipal councils to the Oval Office.

The national debt, at the end of June, stands at more than $22 trillion, according to an article published Wednesday by the Pew Research Center.

The articles notes that the nation’s debt is now bigger than its gross domestic product, and that the “overall debt load has just about equaled or exceeded GDP since late 2012, which had not previously been the case since the end of World War II.”

Though some may think the U.S. is basically being sold to China, it’s not. China only held about 5% of the U.S. debt, while about 26.5 percent is owed to another arm of the government, primarily Social Security and the Federal Reserve system, the Pew Research Center reports. What might happen to Social Security or other programs should additional money be borrowed seems unclear, but one thing is for certain: the U.S. needs to keep its debt in check.

The government projects it will pay $593.1 billion in interest during the current fiscal year, and interest rates are beginning to creep higher.

Meanwhile, the recently revised tax laws may do little, if anything, to help our economic woes long term.

The Congressional Budget Office issued a report in early February that states “record debt levels (are) expected within a decade,” and that by 2023, “the tax law’s positive effect on economic growth will fade away entirely.”

The 9/11 victims and their families deserve the compensation, but we’ll agree with Sen. Paul that the rest of the budget and the country’s debt needs some attention.