The partisan tensions surrounding the healthcare and compensation bill for sick Ground Zero workers today broke into an open war of words between U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-WY, and two of the bill's authors.
The measure, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which passed the House in September, was blocked from a vote in the Senate last week by Republicans, who closed ranks and denied supporters the three/fifths majority needed to bring the bill to the floor.
Enzi wrote an op-ed in a New York paper Sunday explaining why he is against the bill. Today, U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler, both D-NY and co-sponsors of the House bill, fired off a press release that, basically, calls Enzi a liar, and refutes his op-ed point by point.
9/11 rescuers deserve an honest debate, not a smear campaign, Maloney said. The Zadroga Act has been before Senator Enzi's committee for years, but only now, when the bill has a chance of becoming law, is he saying that he has concerns and needs more information. This is just an attempt to kill the bill by stalling it. It's been nine years since 9/11, and those who are suffering because of the attacks don't have any more time to wait. The time to pass the Zadroga Act is now.
Senator Enzi's disingenuous and misleading characterizations of the Zadroga Act are simply part and parcel of Republican efforts to derail the legislation, Nadler said. The Senate Republicans have clearly demonstrated their lack of empathy for the first responders and survivors of 9/11, and there is only one way left them to prove their support: vote for the bill.
Enzi led off his piece by claiming that every member of the U.S. Senate supports the intent of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act but quickly added that there are serious concerns about the existing programs to help 9/11 first responders, and it is not clear that this bill fixes current problems.
Enzi said Congress has funded numerous programs to provide care and compensation to 9/11 victims, spending several billion dollars on extraordinary and unprecedented efforts. But he contends that current program administrators have failed to account for much of the previously allocated money.
He wrote that he would like to work with the sponsors of this legislation to try to resolve these concerns but before we create a new program, we need the basic facts about what worked and what did not work over the past nine years.
Enzi said Republicans strongly support the 9/11 heroes but have concerns about waste, fraud and abuse in the existing programs.
He blamed the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health for mishandling 9/11 workers healthcare so far, said that Congress could not be spending money on questionable programs, and concluded by saying that a flawed bill should not be rushed through Congress in lame duck.
Maloney and Nadler refuted Enzi with one voice.
If Sen. Enzi has concerns and questions about the bill, why did he and 40 of his Republican colleagues vote this week to prevent the Senate from debating it? they said. A debate would be an ideal forum to hash out the details of a bill.
They note that Enzi said he supports the intent of the bill.
But in truth he has done nothing to address the health problems of 9/11 rescuers and survivors in the 9-plus years since the attacks, they said.
Maloney and Nadler said that Enzi's whole intent is to prevent passage of the bill in lame duck, since that would effectively kill the bill, as the House will be predominantly Republican next year and, in all likelihood, not interested in giving permanent healthcare and compensation to Ground Zero responders.
The bill 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 Bush Administration and nearly all Congressional Republicans outside New York opposed creating and funding the 9/11 health programs, Maloney and Nadler said. The New York Congressional delegation had to fight for every penny to help ailing 9/11 responders and survivors, and forced the Bush Administration to set up 9/11 medical monitoring and treatment programs.
As Maloney has pointed out previously, Christine Todd Whitman, EPA chief under George W. Bush, visited ground Zero five edays after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and declared that the air at the site was safe to breath. When the EPA records were finally made public, after a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, it was revealed that Whitman and the Bush administration did not tell the truth. The air at Ground Zero was heavily toxic for weeks following the disaster.
According to advocates for the responders and their families, approximately 900 people have so far died from ailments contracted while working on the pile, and that first responders are currently dying at a rate of three a month. james Zadroga, a New York City police detective, is the first known Ground Zero responder to die, in 2006, from illness contracted there.
Maloney and Nadler then addressed Enzi remarks about the compensation already given.
Since 2001, the federal government has spent $475 million to provide medical treatment and monitoring for the tens of thousands of Americans who are sick because of the 9/11 attacks, the Congress members said. These efforts are neither 'extraordinary' nor 'unprecedented.'
Congress passed health care and compensation for civilian rescuers after the Pearl Harbor attacks, and passed a significant health and compensation program for nuclear workers. The nuclear workers' program is an entitlement and to date has allocated more than $6.5 billion federal dollars, Maloney and Nadler said.
It's simply not true that the 9/11 health programs have 'failed to account' for their spending, the lawmakers said.
According to Maloney and Nadler, Enzi has been given a detailed accounting of how the $475 million has been spent. Enzi is saying that the money is not accounted for because the 9/11 programs haven't provided him with information on individual health care claims, which is the kind of data a health insurance company would have, the Congress members said.
Since the 9/11 clinics are not being run as a health insurance plan, the information the Senator is asking for does not exist, Maloney and Nadler said.
And the compensation fund was not run as a health insurance plan because the Bush administration chose to set up the healthcare compensation for the responders through a system of block grants and clinics.
Because the 9/11 clinics are not reimbursed for individual claims like doctor visits or medical procedures, the clinics don't generate 'claims-level' data, the lawmakers said.
Of course, Senator Enzi knows all this - he's the ranking member of the Senate health care committee and is familiar with how federal grant programs work, Maloney and Nadler said. The charges he's making against the 9/11 bill are pure politics.
In June 2010, the head of NIOSH - the federal agency Enzi criticizes for lack of records - appeared before the health committee where Enzi is ranking member and explained the system in place at the 9/11 clinics. Enzi was given all the documentation available.
Also, when NIOSH tried to change the compensation program to make it more accountable, the Bush administration quashed it and no cries of outrage were heard from the Senator from Wyoming, Maloney and Nadler said.
Sen. Enzi has produced zero evidence of waste, fraud, and abuse at the 9/11 health programs, Maloney and Nadler said. Indeed, the only person saying that the funds are not properly accounted-for is Senator Enzi -- not the Government Accountability Office, not the Inspector General for HHS, or anyone else who actually oversees the programs.
The Congress members added that Enzi has produced no evidence to support his claim that NIOSH has mismanaged the previous fund.
Sen. Enzi is trying to create the appearance of impropriety at the 9/11 programs in order to kill the Zadroga Act, they said.
According to Maloney and Nadler, the Zadroga bill is not careless spending, as it does not add a dime to the deficit and is fully paid for by closing a tax loophole that allows foreign multinational corporations to funnel revenue through third-party countries in order to reduce the U.S. taxes they owe.
They added that the bill is not an open-ended program, but spending for health care and compensation is capped under the bill.
Maloney and Nadler said repeatedly that Enzi is misrepresenting what he knows about the bill, as well as his own motives for opposing it.
Enzi was contacted for a response to the comments of Maloney and Nadler, but declined.
Senator Enzi's statement speaks for itself, said spokesperson Jessica Straus.
Supporters of the Zadroga bill are trying for another chance to bring it to the Senate floor before this lame duck session ends at the end of the year.