We basically know the status of every piece of legislation that Harry Reid mentioned yesterday at his caucus meeting except for one: the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which would provide needed funds to victims of the environmental and health hazards at Ground Zero. Rescue workers have waited nine years for compensation of being exposed to these dangers.

This is a situation where Democrats have no understanding of their own power. They could have shamed the Republicans into this, and set a powerful narrative about the hypocrisy and selfishness of the conservative side of the aisle. Instead, it’s fallen to JON STEWART, of all people, to make an issue of this. He basically turned his show over to it last night.

The segment with the 9-11 first responders, reacting to Republican obstruction of the issue, was really powerful. He played Mitch McConnell responding with tears to the farewell speech of Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), and then contrasted that with the experience of these first responders:

STEWART: That’s Sen. Mitch McConnell on the floor of the Senate, he’s talking about Sen. Judd Gregg who’s retiring from the Senate.

JOHN DEVLIN, ENGINEER: Yeah, he’s shedding a tear on his lunch buddy that he hangs out with everyday. Where is his human feeling for — not only for us, we represent the brother and sisters…that can’t come out and speak like we can. It’s sad to see someone like him –

STEWART: To be fair, they have worked together for six years. [...]

KENNY SPECK, FDNY: Watching that, there’s only one thing I can say. I found time to dress as a New York City fireman on September 11, isn’t that incredible?…I tell you I feel bad for Mitch McConnell, you know, he said something very important. He’s going to watch his friend walk out of the Senate chambers, and unfortunately that’s more than a New York City firefighter can say about 343 of his brothers who can’t walk anymore.

In an earlier segment, Stewart excoriated the news networks for failing to mention this issue even once in their nightly newscasts. Only Al Jazeera has offered a full-length piece on this topic.

The reason for that is that, when a Republican priority gets blocked, a mighty noise machine comes down on the media and elevates the importance of the issue. In this case, Republicans were blocking everything and Democrats determined not to really make an issue of it, so it wasn’t “news” that the GOP was blocking compensation for rescue workers sickened at Ground Zero.

Led mostly by Stewart, which is sad, there’s a sliver of momentum on the issue. He got Mike Huckabee to agree that the issue ought to be a priority in the waning days of the Congressional lame duck session. Even Rudy 9iu11iani couldn’t escape his past politicization of the event, calling the Senate GOP obstruction a mistake.

Kirsten Gillibrand described in a press release the possibility of passing this bill as “a Christmas miracle.” That’s really sad, that it’s taken 9 years to come up with a method to pay back volunteers who were made ill as a direct cause of their service, and that passage is still not guaranteed. A better political movement would make anyone who dared get in the way of this pay a very high price.