Exposing Falsehoods and Revealing Truths
WASHINGTON — Republican senators blocked Democratic legislation on Thursday that sought to provide medical care to rescue workers and others who became ill as a result of breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke at the site of the 9/11 World Trade Center attack.
The 9/11 health bill, a version of which was approved by the House of Representatives in September, was among a handful of initiatives that Senate Democrats had hoped to approve before the close of the 111th Congress. Supporters believe this was their last real opportunity to have the bill passed.
The Senate’s action created huge uncertainty over the bill’s future. Its proponents were working on Thursday to salvage the legislation, including by proposing to have it inserted into a large tax-cut bill that Republicans and Democrats are trying to pass before Congress ends its current session.
But such a move seemed unlikely, since it might complicate passage of the tax package, which includes another provision that Democrats, including President Obama, sought in return for supporting the extension of tax cuts for all income levels that Republicans wanted: a continuation of unemployment benefits for jobless Americans.
In a vote largely along party lines, the Senate rejected a procedural move by Democrats to end debate on the 9/11 health bill and to bring it to a vote; 60 yes votes were needed, but the move received only 57, with 42 votes against.
Republicans have been raising concerns about how to pay for the $7.4 billion measure, while Democrats, led by Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York, have argued that there was a moral obligation to assist those who put their lives at risk during rescue and cleanup operations at ground zero.
The bill is formally known as the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, named after a New York police detective who participated in the rescue efforts at ground zero. He later developed breathing complications that were common to first responders at the site, and he died in January 2006. The cause of his death became a source of debate after the city’s medical examiner concluded that it was not directly related to the 9/11 attacks.
After the vote, Representative Carolyn B. Maloney of New York, a chief sponsor of the bill in the House, argued that Democrats should include the 9/11 health bill in the larger tax-cut legislation and, in the process, dare Republicans to oppose it in that context. Ms. Maloney added that the tax- cut bill was the one piece of legislation that “Republicans won’t leave this town without passing.”
As the day wore on, it appeared increasingly unlikely that the Senate would include a provision providing health care for ground zero workers in any tax package it brought to the floor, according to senior Hill officials.
And later on Thursday, when Democratic leaders in the Senate released the details of the tax-cut bill it did not contain any provision providing health care for ground zero workers. But supporters of the 9/11 legislation said they were pushing Democratic leaders in the House to include it in any tax-cut plan that that chamber approves.
The vote earlier in the day was a blow to sponsors of the bill, who mobilized a network of allies across the political spectrum to lobby on its behalf, including the New York City police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
Ms. Gillibrand, the chief sponsor in the Senate, even reached out to former President George W. Bush. But her aides say Mr. Bush did not respond to her entreaties.
In a statement, Mr. Bloomberg chastised Senate Republicans for their “wrongheaded political strategy” and called on them to allow the bill to come to the floor for a vote. “The attacks of 9/11 were attacks on America,” he said, “and we have a collective responsibility to care for the heroes — from all 50 states — who answered the call of duty, saved lives, and helped our nation recover.”
The bill calls for providing $3.2 billion over the next eight years to monitor and treat injuries stemming from exposure to toxic dust and debris at ground zero. New York City would pay 10 percent of those health costs.
The bill would also set aside $4.2 billion to reopen the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund to provide payments for job and economic losses.
In addition, the bill includes a provision that would allow money from the Victim Compensation Fund to be paid to any eligible claimant who receives a payment under the settlement of lawsuits that 10,000 rescue and cleanup workers recently reached with the city. Now, those who receive a settlement from the city are limited in how much compensation they can get from the fund, according to the bill’s sponsors.
There are nearly 60,000 people enrolled in health monitoring and treatment programs related to the 9/11 attacks, according to the sponsors of the bill. The federal government provides the bulk of the money for those programs.
If the bill is not adopted by the current Congress, its supporters will have start over again next year. With Republicans set to take over the House, passing the bill in that chamber will be extremely difficult, the bill’s supporters say. That is a large part of the reason backers of the measure were are pleading with Senate leaders to get it passed by this Congress.