World Trade Center Responder Health Bill Not Dead Yet

Could there still be hope for the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act? Possibly, according to The New York Daily News, which is reporting that a group of <"">Ground Zero responders heard encouraging words yesterday from some key Republican Senators regarding the Zadroga bill’s chances.

The Zadroga bill would provide permanent, long-term health care for those World Trade Center responders who became ill because of exposure to toxic dust at Ground Zero, 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, Senate Republicans successfully blocked debate on the Zadroga bill, essentially preventing a vote on the bill. The blockage of the Zadroga bill was part of a GOP Senate strategy to stop any legislation – no matter how important – from passing until the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy are extended.

Republicans have also opposed the bill’s plan to raise funds by closing tax loopholes on foreign companies that funnel profits through third parties, which they see as a tax. The bill’s sponsors, however, have offered at least five alternative funding mechanisms in an attempt to get the legislation passed. With the clock ticking on Congress’ lame duck session, time is quickly running out on the Zadroga bill.

Well, those tax cust for the wealthy that Republicans wanted so badly have passed both the Senate and House of Representatives, so now what happens to Zadroga?

According to the Daily News, a group of former firefighters, construction workers and cops visiting Capitol Hill yesterday got some encouragement from Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), though their visit does appear to have started out on the wrong foot.

When they first arrived at Senator Collins’ office, the Zadroga bill advocates were met by Capitol police. According to the Daily News, a spokesman for Collins confirmed that a staffer alerted police after they got a letter from John Feal of the FealGood Foundation on Wednesday warning that the group was planning to stage a sit in. The spokesman said alerting Capitol police was standard procedure in such a situation.

Ultimately, Senator Collins did meet with the group, and offered strong word of support for the Zadroga bill.

“I support the 9/11 health bill on the merits, and I have talked with Senator (Kirsten) Gillibrand about the need for legitimate ways of offsetting its cost,” she said of the measure. “If the majority leader were to bring the bill to the floor with appropriate offsets, I would support [it],” she said.

Feal told the Daily News that Senator Murkowski, whose office is next door to Senator Collins, also promised the bill will pass if it goes to floor next week.

Momentum for the Zadroga bill does appear to be growing. A statement issued today from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office, one of the Zadroga bill’s chief sponsors, said she was “aiming for a Christmas miracle” in getting the legislation through the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced his intentions to bring the bill to another vote and Republican leaders, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Governor Mike Huckabee, recently announced their support for the bill, the statement said.

“I urge my Republican colleagues to end the filibuster, engage in an open and respectful debate, and let each senator decide for themselves whether the heroes and victims of September 11th deserve quality health treatment and appropriate compensation for their tremendous loss and sacrifice,” Senator Gillibrand said. “The 9/11 heroes deserve an up or down vote.”

Advocates for our 9/11 heroes are now asking voters in every state to contact their Senator – regardless of their party affiliation – and insist that they pass the Zadroga bill. Information on how to contact your Senator is available at the US Senate website.

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