Declaring, This game is not yet over! Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, was joined by her Congressional colleague, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, a few dozen first responders and about 50 supporters today in Lower Manhattan to demand that Congress pass the health and compensation act for the people who got sick working at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The legislation, called the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, would provide $7 billion for permanent healthcare and compensation for the more than 20,000 responders made ill while doing recovery and clean-up at the ruins of the World Trade Center. The House passed the measure in September. But on Thursday, Senate Republicans blocked the bill from coming to the floor for a vote.
The Republicans are holding our bill hostage, said John Feal, a first responder and the founder of the FealGood Foundation, an outreach and advocacy organization for 9/11 responders and their families.
They want to help millionaires and billionaires before they help heroes, Feal said. It's an insult. It's an outrage. The American people and the 9/11 community deserve better.
It's not Republicans who are blocking this measure. I myself am a Republican and I know plenty of Republicans who are for compensating the people who worked at Ground Zero, said Charles Wolf, a Manhattan resident who lost his wife in the 9/11 attacks. It's the Republican Party that's doing it. These responders, these are the people who came here and looked for my wife, and for the wife, the husband, the father, the mother, the children of so many people. These people are heroes and to turn away from them now in their need -- it's a disgrace.
The Zadroga bill, named for a New York City police detective who is the first 9/11 responder to have his death in 2006 attributed to illness contracted at Ground Zero, appears to be a pawn of intense party politics.
Because of a deal struck between the Obama administration and Republican leadership, the House and the Senate have begun to consider legislation that would extend the Bush-era tax cuts to all citizens and extend unemployment insurance benefits to the millions of Americans who have already lost them or will at year's end.
The tax cuts are also due to expire on Dec. 31. The Democrats had originally planned to extend the tax breaks only for people making under $250,000 a year. But Senate Republicans threatened to use their filibuster power to block all legislation Democrats may attempt in this lame duck session, unless and until the tax break is extended for America's wealthiest citizens as well.
The Senate voted on the Zadroga bill before Senate Democrats introduced the tax break extension compromise legislation, so that Republicans fulfilled their threat to block any Democrat proposals until the tax break extension passes. Republicans who Democrats thought would support the Zadroga bill maintained solidarity with the party's position.
The Senate will vote on the tax cuts/UI extension compromise on Monday, and it is expected to pass. Backers of the Zadroga bill see another chance for their legislation after the compromise passes.
Senator Reid can then re-introduce the Zadroga bill and we would need at least two Republicans to vote with the Democrats to bring it to the floor and to pass it, Congressman Nadler explained, referring to Sen. Harry Reid, D-NV, the Senate Majority Leader.
Nadler said that Sen. Mark Kirk, R-OH, has already committed to supporting the bill. One more Republican senator would be needed.
The House has also not yet passed the tax cut/UI extension compromise bill. House Democrats, objecting to continuing tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, balked at the bill introduced on Thursday. Democratic leaders are warning members that to oppose the compromise engineered by the White House may cause taxes to rise for all Americans on January 1, and it is believed that Democrats will hammer out their differences and pass some form of the compromise next week.
We could attach the Zadroga bill to the compromise bill that the House will presumably pass, Nadler said.
The compromise bill with the Zadroga attachment would then have to be considered by the Senate. That would be a second way the Zadroga bill could become law before the year is out, Nadler said.
Maloney said there are some other possibilities, like attaching the Zadroga bill to the House continuing resolution to fund the government, which also must be passed before year's end.
We can get it passed. We will get it passed. We just have to keep working at it, Maloney said.
There is an urgency among supporters to pass the Zadroga bill, which President Obama has said he will sign, before the year is over. Next year, the House will be controlled by Republicans and getting support for a new version of the bill may be more difficult.
Although they know time may not be on their side, supporters of the Zadroga bill have no intentions of giving up.
I will remember who voted for and who voted against, said Anthony Flammia, a retired police officer and first responder made ill at Ground Zero. They disgust me with these political games. For once, they should drop politics and vote like they're American.
What do I have to say to Republicans who are blocking this bill? Feal said. How do you justify not just your political position, but how do you justify your existence as a human being? How do you look in the mirror? Do you go home at night, kiss your wife, hug your kids and say, 'Hey, by the way, I just voted to deny healthcare for the thousands of people sick from working at Ground Zero. How was your day?'