Senate to Vote on 9/11 First Responders' Bill Soon

Measure to deliver health care to emergency workers gets second chance in Senate

December 20, 2010, 6:00 PM

Dec. 20, 2010— -- The Senate could vote today on a bill that will guarantee medical care to rescue workers who became sick after 9/11, pushing forward legislation once rejected by Republicans and which proponents say was long ignored by the White House.

New York lawmakers have made a strong push in recent days to get the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act passed this week, giving the law its last best hope of success in the waning days of the lame-duck session of Congress.

A previous version of the bill passed the House but failed to get a vote in the Senate earlier this month. The new bill is expected to be voted on today or Wednesday. Supporters say it is likely to pass.

The bill aims to provide medical care to the emergency workers who first responded to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. Many of the workers, after exposure to toxins following the towers' collapse, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told "Good Morning America" on Monday.

"The people who rushed to the towers after 9/11, they are our heroes just like veterans, they volunteered and risked their lives for us in a time of war," he said. "American tradition is we don't turn our backs on them no matter what state you're from and no matter what party you're from. And I see in these last moments the Congress coming together along those lines."

Republicans killed the original bill because they said it paid for itself by closing tax loopholes, which some said was akin to raising taxes.

The new bill trims the cost to $6.2 billion from $7.4 billion.

Supporting the bill is a host of New York politicians from both sides of the aisle, including Schumer and his junior colleague Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Republican Rep. Peter King and Democrats Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Rep. Anthony Weiner.

"Our First Responders Are Sick and Many Are Dying..."

King, a Republican and incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, was one of the bill's co-sponsors. He chastised his GOP colleagues for defeating the bill's first incarnation and told them the bill's funding had been "depicted incorrectly as a massive entitlement program for New York."

Members of Congress and the White House came under fire from an unlikely source last week. Comedian Jon Stewart dedicated his entire "Daily Show" broadcast Thursday to somberly upbraid both groups for not dedicating enough attention to the bill's passage.

With an already packed schedule in the final days of the Congressional session, many lawmakers assumed the bill would be left for dead and some blamed the president for not giving the bill the same attention received by the tax deal and the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."

"I suppose [President Obama] can't know everything about the thousands of bills introduced in Congress each year," Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D- N.Y., told ABC News. "But…it looks like the 9/11 health bill is not on the White House's radar. Our first responders are sick and many are dying and the next few days may be the last opportunity to get them the care they need."

The White House, which spent months campaigning for the repeal on the ban on gays in the military and weeks fighting for its tax plan, has only once officially called for the 9/11 bill to be considered.

In a statement from September 2010, the White House called the bill "a critical step for those who continue to bear the physical scars" of the attacks.

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