Senate Approves 9/11 First Responders Health Bill
A group of 9/11 first responders at a 2007 news conference next to Ground Zero; Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Updated 2:38 p.m. ET
The Senate has passed a $4.2 billion aid package for 9/11 responders and survivors. It’s a smaller version of the measure as it was originally introduced. Here’s a breakdown of some of the changes to the bill, as compiled by Slate.
The New York Times has more on the deal that led to the revised aid package:
The compromise on Wednesday was reached after Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both New York Democrats, agreed to changes demanded by conservative Republicans, who raised concerns about the measure’s cost and prevented the bill from advancing in the Senate. After drawing criticism in recent days from Democrats and Republicans alike, the Republican senators backed down.
Under the new agreement, the bill provides $4.3 billion over five years for health coverage to the 9/11 workers, instead of the original $7.4 billion over eight years.
Posted 11:30 a.m. ET
The Senate appears headed toward action Wednesday on a long-delayed bill to provide health care and compensation for 9/11 first responders — the EMTs, firefighters, policemen and others who became sick after working in the toxic dust and debris at the World Trade Center site.
The bill has been in the works for years, and was most recently voted down two weeks ago by Senate Republicans.
But a renewed push by New York legislators — and renewed media attention — has given the bill new momentum as the lame-duck session of Congress winds down.
More public attention has shifted toward the bill in the last couple of weeks, credited in large part to Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart, who devoted an episode of “The Daily Show” to the issue last week.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
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“This bill has long been a huge priority for us in New York, but Jon’s attention to this helped turn it into the national issue it always should have been,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told ABC News.
The Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act is named for police officer and first responder James Zadroga, who died in 2006 of a respiratory illness. The $6.2 billion bill would provide money to set up a medical monitoring program for those who lived or worked at the World Trade Center site, and would pay for the treatment of any diseases related to exposure to the toxic dust there.
The original $7 billion Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund paid compensation to people who were injured (or the families of those who were killed) in the immediate aftermath of the attack. The new bill would fund compensation and treatment for people who became sick months or years later.
Paramedic Marvin Bethea, for example, rushed to the site after the attack and spent days in the rubble. Five weeks later, the previously healthy 41-year old suffered a stroke, and he later developed asthma and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“At least this will guarantee us some health care,” Bethea says. “Every six months we have to go to Washington begging to get money for the Mount Sinai [hospital medical monitoring] program. At least if the Zadroga bill passes we know we’ll have money for the next 10 years.”
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand told CNN that the fund will provide “coverage of last resort” to responders whose medical insurance and workers comp run out. “This is to be there so that when they’re suffering from these grave diseases they will have the help they desperately need just to survive.”
Opponents of the bill, however, say that the measure is unnecessary and will create an expensive new entitlement program.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has been one of the most outspoken opponents. In a statement on his website, he said that the bill “creates an expansive new health care entitlement program, despite multiple existing federally-supported health care programs for 9/11 first responders and victims” and “re-opens the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund (VCF), despite the fund’s original intent to be temporary in nature and a recent $815 million settlement that addressed gaps in compensation funding.”
The bill has had an up-and-down ride. It passed the House earlier this month, but failed in the Senate in the face of Republican opposition. New York Sens. Gillibrand and Charles Schumer reintroduced a streamlined version that cut the total cost from $7.4 billion to $6.2 billion.
Since last week, some prominent Republicans — such as former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee — and conservative-leaning talk show hosts such as Joe Scarborough have come out in favor of the bill.
Bill supporters say they’re confident they’ll have the votes necessary to avoid a filibuster.
But as of Wednesday morning, Coburn still indicated he plans to try to block passage of the bill until the Senate’s session ends.
If the bill does pass the Senate, it would have to be approved by the House as well before the House’s session ends.