Senate Republicans delivered a serious setback to the community of Ground Zero responders and their families today by blocking the Zadroga bill from coming to a vote.
The bill, a $7 billion measure to provide permanent healthcare and compensation for the more than 20,000 responders made ill at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, required at least two Senate Republicans to break ranks and vote with the Democrats to give the bill the three/fifths majority it needed to proceed to a vote.
No Republican crossed the aisle and the bill failed.
But John Feal, an injured first responder and the founder of the FealGood Foundation, an outreach and advocacy organization for 9/11 responders and their families, was far from throwing in the towel.
This bill will get attached to the Bush Tax Cuts, or voted on again next week, Feal said today. We will get this passed this year.
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The bill's full name is the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, and it is named for a New York City police detective who worked several weeks at Ground Zero immediately following the 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 Feal, 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.
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, was one of the Zadroga bill's sponsors in the House of Representatives, where the measure passed on Sept. 29.
It's sad that Senate Republicans won't even allow a debate on helping sick and dying 9/11 rescuers and survivors - but since that is the case, I am urging my House colleagues to add the Zadroga Act to the tax cut package, Maloney said.
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, emboldened by gains in the mid-term elections, 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.
Looking at the possibility of a tax increase for all Americans, and the loss of UI benefits for millions in dire need, as well as stalled legislation regarding arms control, immigration and other key policy issues, Obama compromised with GOP leadership and promised to have his party back legislation to extend the tax break for all.
When the House introduces a bill embodying the Obama/GOP deal, Maloney intends to include a provision approving the Zadroga bill.
Several House Democrats are currently bridling at supporting the compromise measure, but lawmakers appear to understand that, if they do not extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, Republicans will block all measures and all Americans will face tax increases in January. Because no lawmaker wants to be blamed for a tax increase, or for denying UI benefits to out-of-work families, it is expected that House Democrats will find a way to pass the measure.
It remains to be seen if Maloney and her allies can move the Zadroga bill as part of the tax cut extension bill. If they can, the Senate would also have to pass it.
Senate Republicans have already indicated that they would pass the tax cut/UI extension compromise, but how much bill tinkering they are going to tolerate also remains to be seen.
And the clock is ticking. Because Republicans took control of the House in the mid-term elections and gained six seats in the Senate, it is going to be that much harder for Democrats to garner the necessary support from Republicans to pass the Zadroga bill next year.
Republicans have repeartedly characterized the bill as a compensatiojn package for New Yorkers at the expense of the rest of the country. The bill's supporters have countered that people from every state and almost every Congressional district worked at Ground Zero and that the attascks on the World Trade Center were attacks on the United States.
They also point out that the Bush administration's EPA director Christine Todd Whitman told the workers and the world, five days after the attacks, that her agency had tested the air quality at Ground Zero and found it safe.
It was later discovered through the government's own records that Whitman had lied and the administration knew the air at Ground Zero was toxic.