Republicans Betray Sick Ground Zero Workers So the Rich Can Have Their Tax Cuts

Last week, Republicans in the US Senate sent a clear message about their priorities when they prevented the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act from coming to the floor for debate. As far as tax cuts for the rich go, Republicans are willing to pull out all the stops. But when it comes to health care for the thousands of <"">World Trades Center rescue and recovery workers sickened by toxic dust as a result of their valiant efforts at Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attacks — well the tax cuts come first.

The Zadroga bill would provide long-term health care for those workers who became ill, and it would re-create a victims’ compensation fund to make cash payments to sick workers or their survivors. The Zadroga bill was approved in the House of Representatives this past fall, but still needed to make it through the Senate.

But last week, Republicans in the Senate wouldn’t even allow the Zadroga bill to come up for debate. By a vote of 57-to-41, they successfully blocked the bill from coming to the Senate floor. The defeat was all part of a GOP Senate strategy to stop any legislation until the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy are extended.

So there you have it – the party that was never shy about using the patriotic fervor generated in the aftermath of the terror attacks for its own political ends has betrayed the very heroes who sacrificed so much for their country in the wake of that horrific event. Just so a handful of millionaires and billionaires can have lower taxes. Seems like a fair trade-off, doesn’t it?

The defeat of the Zadroga bill could mean that thousands of workers sickened by toxic dust at Ground Zero may never get any help. While a settlement of thousands of Ground Zero toxic dust lawsuits was approved last month, that deal only covers around 10,000 people who filed suit. The settlement does nothing for the 30,000 people who received some form of treatment – let alone the estimated 90,000 people who rushed to the toxic scene.

And then there are the 325 Ground Zero workers who did file suit, but who will have no part in the settlement because of its arbitrary deadline – a deadline most weren’t even made aware of until it passed. Attorney Matthew McCauley, whose firm <"">Parker Waichman Alonso LLP represents more than a dozen such claimants, recently told The Wall Street Journal that the Zadroga bill may be the only chance such claimants have for compensation because “they’re seeing the court dismiss every claim they put in.”

McCauley, whose firm is appealing the court decision that left the 325 workers out of the settlement, voiced his disgust with the recent turn of events, but promised the fight for disenfranchised Ground Zero workers was far from over.

“We are very disappointed with the failure of the bill to pass but remain hopeful that it will pass before the end of the year,” he said. “While we are disappointed and frustrated with the current state of the legislation, we are continuing forward with our appeal pending before the United States Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit with the understanding that this appeal may be the last option that thousands of people who were left out of the World Trade Center litigation and initial victims compensation fund may have.”

There is still a chance that the Zadroga bill could pass before Congress ends its current lame duck session, but it’s a slim one. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat ultimately joined with Republicans last week in blocking debate on the measure. But his vote was strategic, because by voting “no,” Reid preserved his right to bring the Zadroga bill to the floor for a vote if Republicans drop their opposition.

In the House of Representatives, backers of the Zadroga bill – including some Republicans – are trying to have the legislation added to the very tax package that Senate Republicans want so much. Last week, forty-five House members signed a letter sent to Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking her to attach the Zadroga bill to any tax legislation.

But according to The New York Daily News, that’s a long shot.

“I wouldn’t say it’s on life support – I’d say it’s not optimistic, but we still have a shot,” US Representative Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, told the Daily News.

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