Republicans Block U.S. Health Aid for 9/11 Worker
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|Thu, 12-09-2010 - 3:06pm|
I thought Republicans were all about Patriotism, red, white & blue, & all that jazz. Guess not.
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.
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. Supporters believe this is their last real opportunity to have the bill passed.
The Senate action created huge uncertainty over the future of the bill. Its proponents were working on Thursday to have the legislation inserted into a large tax-cut bill that Republicans and Democrats are trying 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 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 formally known as the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, named after a New York 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 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.
In a statement released by his office after the vote, Mr. Reid gave no indication of whether he would insert the 9/11 measure in the tax bill Republicans are seeking. But he attacked Republican senators for what he described as misplaced priorities.
“Republicans denied adequate health care to the heroes who developed illnesses from rushing into burning buildings on 9/11,” he said. “Yet they will stop at nothing to give tax breaks to millionaires and C.E.O.’s, even though they will explode our deficit and fail to create jobs. That tells you everything you need to know about their priorities.”
The vote was a 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.