Sponsors and supporters of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act were in Washington, D.C. today to urge the U.S. Senate to get past partisanship and pass the measure that will bring permanent healthcare and compensation to the approximately 20,000 Americans who are suffering from illnesses contracted while working at Ground Zero in the weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan.

 

The bill, named for an NYC police detective believed to be the first person to die from working on the pile, passed the House of Representatives in September.

The measure was blocked in the Senate in early December. Needing 60 votes to clear a procedural hurdle and come to the Senate floor for a vote, the effort required at least two Republicans to vote with Democrats. None did.

Senate Republicans had vowed to stand firm and block all measures from coming to a vote until Democrats agreed to pass an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and not only for the middle class. Democrats have since relented and passed the extension. Zadroga bill backers believe that now they can get the necessary GOP votes to win passage.

Senate Majoirty leader Harry reid has said he will bring the Zadroga bill up again once the Senate addresses a Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded, and the START Treaty for nuclear arms reduction with Russia.

The CR passed the Senate earlier today, and the START Treaty is likely to be voted on tomorrow or possibly tonight.

Backers know that if the Zadroga bill does not pass this Congress, it will be more difficult to get the next Congress, which will contain more Republicans members, to consider it.

It's the ninth inning and we need a good closer to win the game, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney told the bill's supporters at their rally at the Capital Visitors Center, and she called upon President Obama to use his clout to sway Republican Senators.

 Mr. President, please step up to the mound for those who worked on the pile, said Maloney who, with Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY and Peter King, R-NY, sponsored the House version. We need to work together to rescue the 9/11 rescuers.  Let's do the right and patriotic thing and pass the Zadroga bill now.

The bill would provide for permanent healthcare and compensation for the responders made ill while doing recovery and clean-up at Ground Zero. Supporters of the bill say that at least 900 first responders have died from illness contracted at Ground Zero since 2001.

The measure that passed the House provided $7.4 billion, but the Senate version, co-sponsored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, both D-NY, cuts that amount to $6.2 billion, because of a separate settlement reached with many ailing Ground Zero workers last month. 

Additionally, in response to concerns raised by Senate Republicans, Gillibrand and Schumer unveiled a new way of paying for the bill. Instead of relying on the House-passed offset that closed foreign tax loopholes, the new Senate bill would impose a 2-percent excise fee on certain foreign companies that receive U.S. government contracts. This raises roughly $4.5 billion over 10 year. To offset the remaining cost of the 9/11 measure, the bill includes two other revenue-raising measures that have passed the Senate either unanimously or on a broad, bipartisan vote.

It has taken us nine years to get to this point and my hope is that these men and women here today are going to put us over the finish line,' Gillibrand said today. The men and women here today are just a few of the tens of thousands of first responders all over the country that came to our nation's rescue after September 11th. When Senators hear their stories and learn about the horrible diseases they are suffering from, then I know we can come together and fulfill the undeniable moral obligation we have as a nation to provide health care and compensation to these heroes.

If the Senate passes the bill, it would have to return to the House, where it would almost certainly pass and go on to the President for his signature, which he has promised.

Gillibrand said today that she believes there are enough Republicans onboard to pass the measure.

Insiders close to the issue are, however, saying that Republicans, if they see the bill has enough support for passage, may try various other delaying tactics to run out the legislative clock on Democrats and, effectively, kill the bill for the foreseeable future.

Republicans have called the measure a healthcare fund for New Yorkers and that the rest of the nation should not be saddled with it. Supporters point out that the terrorist attacks were upon the nation, not just New York, that the Bush administration lied to Ground Zero workers that the air was safe to breath, and that first responders came from every state in the union.

To those who vote against us, I can only say I hope you get coal in your stockings for Christmas, and that you truly are the least American people I know of, said John Feal, a demolition worker injured at Ground Zero and the founder of the FealGood Foundation for Ground Zero workers and their families.

And to the American people, I say please pray for 9/11 responders this holiday season, Feal said.