Supporters of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act may be looking at the measure's last best chance of becoming law.
Passed by the House of Representatives in late September, the $7 billion measure to provide permanent healthcare and compensation for the more than 20,000 responders made ill at Ground Zero, has yet to come to the Senate floor.
Senate sponsors, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, both New York Democrats, are pushing to have a vote on the Zadroga Bill during this lame duck session.
Republicans have signaled a lot of gridlock for the next session, said Matt Canter, spokesperson for Gillibrand. Only 17 Republicans voted with Democrats to pass it in the House, and there will be more Republicans in the Senate next year than there now are. Now is the time, before the year's end, to seize the opportunity and pass the bill.
The Democrats need 60 votes to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote. With the support of all 56 Democratic Senators, and the two Independents who caucus with the Democrats, the Zadroga Bill sponsors need two Republicans to join them to move the measure before the year is out.
The Democrats lost 6 Senate seats in the 2010 elections. They will still have a majority in the Senate next year, but a harder task getting Republican votes for the three-fifths majority required to bring most legislation to the floor.
According to Canter, the Democrats have so far found one Republican Senator to vote with them. He is Mark Kirk of Illinois. Elected on Nov. 2, he is not yet a senator. That will happen, however, on Monday, Nov. 29, when Kirk is sworn in to serve out the remaining years on the Senate seat once filled by Barack Obama and currently occupied, for these remaining days, by Obama's appointed successor, Sen. Roland Burris, D-IL.
Kirk , as a Congressman, was one of the few Republicans to vote for the Zadroga Bill in the House.
The bill is named for James Zadroga, a New York City police detective who worked several weeks at Ground Zero following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, and who is the first 9/11 responder to have his death in 2006 attributed to illness contracted at the site.
According to John Feal, a former demolition worker and 9/11 responder, who was seriously injured at Ground Zero, over 900 first responders have died in the years since working at the site.
While the Senate continues to play God with human life, the 9/11 community continues to lose heroes at the pace of 3 a month, Feal said.
Founder and president of the FealGood Foundation, an outreach and advocacy organization for 9/11 responders and their families, Feal and his group, as well as other groups in support of the 9/11 community, are participating in a rally today in Dorchester, Massachusetts, to urge Senators to take up the measure in lame duck.
In particular, the groups are targeting Sen. Scott Brown, R-MA, who is considered a moderate Republican sympathetic to the responders' plight.
Sources close to Democratic lawmakers say that supporters of the Zadroga Bill are approaching Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both R-ME, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-SC, and Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, among other Republican Senators
Feal said he heard that Democratic lawmakers are pushing for Dec. 2 as the day to bring the bill to the floor, if they have the votes.
Feal has been fighting for healthcare and compensation for 9/11 responders since 2003. He is not about to give up, but he is aware of the importance of timely action.
With the Democratic losses in the election, the Senate must take action in the final days of the current Congress if the Zadroga Act is to have any realistic shot at becoming law, he said. Those in D.C. should be embarrassed for their failure to do what is morally right.