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Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 3 1/2 minutes.
Mr. Speaker, this bill presents a sensitive issue with regard to compensation for those who are suffering ailments as a result of recovery and cleanup efforts at the World Trade Center site. No doubt there are many with legitimate claims as a result of their efforts at Ground Zero.
But this legislation, as written, creates a huge $8.4 billion slush fund paid by taxpayers that is open to abuse, fraud, and waste. That's because the legislation creates an unjustifiable 21-year-long fund that leaves decisions on whether or not to pay claimants to the complete discretion of the special master. As Ken Feinberg, special master of the original 9/11 Fund, has stated, quote, ``No latent claims need such an extended date.''
The legislation also vastly extends the geographic scope of the fund to cover routes of debris removal. This will result in the potential for a huge number of additional claimants with tenuous connections between their medical problems and the cleanup efforts at Ground Zero. Additionally, the bill permits those who have settled their lawsuits to reopen their claims and seek additional taxpayer-funded compensation through the 9/11 Fund. This is contrary to both the terms of the original 9/11 Fund and to general legal principles regarding the finality of settlements.
The original 9/11 Fund was unprecedented in its expression of a Nation's compassion and generosity following the deaths of innocent people. It was designed to settle the claims of those covered once and for all. It may be that the fund should be reopened to first responders whose injuries were not evident until after the expiration of the initial deadline. However, if we are going to reopen the fund, we should do so in a manner that is much narrower, with far less discretion for the special master than is provided for in H.R. 847.
It's hard to explain spending billions of additional taxpayer dollars when Special Master Ken Feinberg himself has emphatically stated that the $1.5 billion in taxpayer money, charitable contributions, and insurance coverage currently available for distribution is, quote, ``more than sufficient to pay all eligible claims, as well as lawyers' fees and costs.''
Mr. Speaker, why do Democrats continue to overreach and consider the taxpayer to be their personal slush fund? I urge my colleagues to vote against this bill.
I reserve the balance of my time.
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