Nothing surprises me anymore about Republican priorities.
Republicans Block U.S. Health Aid for 9/11 Workers
By RAYMOND HERNANDEZ
Published: December 9, 2010
WASHINGTON — Republican senators blocked Democratic legislation on Thursday that sought to provide medical care to rescue workers and residents of New York City who became ill as a result of breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke from ground zero.
Senate Vote: Aid for 9/11 Workers
The 9/11 health bill, a version of which was approved by the House of Representatives in September, is among a handful of initiatives that Senate Democrats had been hoping to approve this year before the close of the 111th Congress.
The Senate action created huge uncertainty over the future of the bill. Its supporters were scrambling on Thursday to have the legislation inserted into a large tax-cut bill that Republicans and Democrats are attempting to pass before Congress ends it current session later this month.
But whether that happens is in part up to Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader. The bill’s backers are counting on Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, a top Reid deputy and a supporter of the bill, to persuade Mr. Reid to go along with that idea.
Such a move might complicate passage of the tax-cut package, which includes another provision that Democrats, including President Obama, sought in return for supporting tax cuts Republicans wanted: an extension of unemployment benefits for jobless Americans.
In a vote largely along party lines, the Senate rejected a procedural move by Democrats to end debate on the 9/11 health bill and bring it to an up-or-down vote; 60 yes votes were needed, but the move received only 57, with 42 votes against.
Republicans have been raising concerns about how to pay for the $7.4 billion measure, while Democrats, led by Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York, have argued that the nation had a moral obligation to assist those who put their lives at risk during rescue operations at ground zero.
The bill is known formally as the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, named after a New York City Police Department detective who participated in the rescue efforts at ground zero. He later developed breathing complications that were common to first responders at the site, and he eventually died in January 2006.
After the vote, Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a chief sponsor of the bill in the House, urged Senate Democrats to include the 9/11 health bill in the larger tax-cut legislation to, in effect, dare Republicans to oppose it in that context.
“The Zadroga Act must be added to the tax cut bill, which is the one measure the Senate Republicans won’t leave this town without passing,” she said.
The vote was a crushing blow to the bill’s sponsors, who mobilized a network of allies across the political spectrum to lobby on behalf of it, including the New York City police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, and mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg.
Ms. Gillibrand, the chief sponsor in the Senate, even reached out to former President George W. Bush. But her aides say Mr. Bush did not respond to her entreaties.
In a statement, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg chastised Senate Republicans for their ``wrong-headed political strategy” and called on them to allow the bill to come to the floor for a vote. ``The attacks of 9/11 were attacks on America,” he said, ``and we have a collective responsibility to care for the heroes – from all 50 states – who answered the call of duty, saved lives, and helped our nation recover.”
The bill calls for providing $3.2 billion over the next eight years to monitor and treat injuries stemming from exposure to toxic dust and debris at ground zero. New York City would pay 10 percent of those health costs.
The bill would also set aside $4.2 billion to reopen the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund to provide compensation for job and economic losses.
In addition, the bill includes a provision that would allow money from the Victim Compensation Fund to be paid to any eligible claimant who receives a payment under the settlement of lawsuits that 10,000 rescue and cleanup workers recently reached with the city. Now, those who receive a settlement from the city are limited in how much compensation they can receive from the fund, according to the bill’s sponsors.
There are nearly 60,000 people enrolled in health monitoring and treatment programs related to the 9/11 attacks, according to the sponsors of the bill. The federal government provides the bulk of the money for those programs.
If the bill is not adopted by the current Congress, its supporters will have start all over again next year. With Republicans set to take over the House next year, passing the bill in that chamber will be extremely difficult, according to the bill’s supporters. That is a large part of the reason the bill’s backers are pleading with Senate leaders to get the bill passed before this Congress finishes its business.