Senate Republicans Blasted for Holding 9/11 Health Bill Hostage

Senate Republicans are coming under fire from various quarters for putting tax cuts for the wealthy ahead of health care for <"">sick World Trade Center responders. By a vote of 57-to-41 Senate Republicans last week successfully blocked debate on the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, essentially preventing a vote on the bill. The blockage of the Zadroga bill was part of a GOP Senate strategy to stop any legislation until the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy are extended. With the clock ticking on Congress’ lame duck session, it’s now doubtful that the Zadroga bill will ever become law.

The Zadroga bill would provide permanent, 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.

“We are outraged and we’ve been insulted once again,” John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, said following the Zadroga bill defeat. “The fact that the Republican Party put our bill behind another bill and hid behind a procedural vote so they can get another bill moved is just a slap in the face.”

US Representative Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ 6th District) also voiced his displeasure over the vote, according to a report from the Atlanticville. “It is very disappointing because basically the Republicans are not supporting the bill,” he said. “I’m hoping we can still get it passed.”

Feal told Atlanticville that he is hoping the Zadroga bill will ultimately be attached to the tax cut extension legislation, and pass that way. But Pallone was less optimistic.

“I don’t want to give everybody the impression that this is necessarily going to happen,” he said. “It is not a good sign, but we are going to try.”

US Representatives Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler, both New York Democrats also expressed outrage at the Senate Republicans’ tactics at a press event last week.

“Health care should not be held hostage to partisan politics,” Maloney said.

“They said to the heroes, ‘we don’t care about you, we don’t recognize you,’” Nadler said.

New York City Michael Bloomberg called the Zadroga setback a “tragic example of partisan politics trumping patriotism,” and urged Senate Republicans to “reconsider their wrong-headed political strategy and allow the bill to come to the floor for a vote.”

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 is appealing that decision on behalf of more than a dozen clients, 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.”

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