Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., derailed an attempt by Democrats on Wednesday to fast-track an extension to the compensation fund for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, citing the national debt.
Paul blocked a push, introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to sign off on the bill approved by the House in a 402-12 vote last week.
The bill would ensure the fund can pay benefits for 70 years.
While balking at the bill, Paul pointed to a need to get the $22 trillion national debt under control before adding any additional spending.
“It has long been my feeling that we need to address our massive debt in the country," he said.
“Any new spending we are approaching, any new program that’s going to have the longevity of 70, 80 years should be offset by cutting spending that’s less valuable.
“We need to at very least to have this debate.”
Gillibrand, a 2020 Democratic hopeful, said she was “disappointed” by Paul’s move to block the bill.
However, a spokesperson for Paul said the Senator is"not blocking anything," and instead is trying to figure out how to pay for it.
"Senator Paul is not blocking anything. He is simply seeking to pay for it. As with any bill, Senator Paul always believes it needs to be paid for. Senator Paul is simply offering an amendment, which other senators support, to pay for this legislation," a spokesperson told Fox News in a statement.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has previously agreed to call for a vote on the bill, and indicated the matter could still be heard before the August recess.
“The first responders who rushed into danger on September 11th, 2001 are the very definition of American heroes and patriots," McConnell said after the bill’s House passage.
"The Senate has never forgotten the Victim Compensation Fund and we aren’t about to start now. Nothing about our shared goal to provide for these heroes is remotely partisan. We will consider this important legislation soon."
The collapse of the World Trade Center in September 2001 sent a cloud of thick dust billowing across Lower Manhattan. Fires burned for weeks. Thousands of construction workers, police officers, firefighters and others spent time working in the soot, often without proper respiratory protection.
In the years since, many 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.
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. More than $5 billion in benefits have been awarded out of the $7.4 billion fund, with about 21,000 claims pending.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.