More common to the Senate, GOP obstruction spread to the House Thursday as Republicans blocked legislation to pay to care for those who have fallen ill due to their exposure to debris during the clean-up after the nation’s worst terrorist attack.
The House voted 255 to 159 for H.R. 847, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, short of the two-thirds margin needed for passage for this bill. Some 155 Republicans voted against the legislation, which would provide medical monitoring and treatment to World Trade Center responders and survivors who were exposed to the toxins at Ground Zero following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Nearly 16,000 responders and 2,700 others are currently sick and receiving treatment, according to estimates released by the lawmakers who introduced the measure. More than 40,000 responders are in medical monitoring and 71,000 individuals are enrolled in a World Trade Center health registry.
While the majority of these people live in the New York/New Jersey area, at least 10,000 of those who are sick or being monitored for signs of illness today reside in areas throughout the United States. In fact, citizens in all but four congressional districts across the country could be affected by toxins from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which were masterminded by the al-Qaeda terrorist organization.
Numerous studies have documented the health effects of the World Trade Center attacks, which include lower and upper respiratory, gastrointestinal, and mental health conditions. These illnesses have caused major financial strains on many of those exposed, who are subsequently no longer able to work and face the high price of health care without a federally-funded national program to incur the costs, the lawmakers behind the bill say.
In remarks supporting the bill leading up to the failed vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called debate involving the attacks that felled the twin towers “sacred ground.”
“It is a place where there should be no disagreement as to our obligation to those who helped dig out and try to help clean up and recover at the scene of 9/11, at Ground Zero,” Pelosi says. “When 9/11 occurred, I don’t think there would have been question in anyone’s mind that responding to it in this particular way was an emergency. It was an emergency. If there were ever an emergency in our country, responding to 9/11 was one. And so the objection that our colleagues make about paying for this, maybe we shouldn’t pay for it, but we are. It is an emergency, it should under emergency spending and investment.”
Pelosi called out as bogus the Republican objections that the 9/11 bill would add to the federal budget deficit. The legislation, she says, contains a “pay-for” that would crack down on tax evaders.
“On September 11, 2001, America stood in shock at the tragedy that unfolded at Ground Zero,” Pelosi says. “In the days that followed, we stood inspired by the thousands of firefighters, rescue workers, first responders, medical personnel, construction workers, who all traveled to the scene of the attack to help New Yorkers clean up and recover. Many spent days, weeks, or months doing the hard work our government asked them to do in the recovery effort.
“Bound together by tragedy, their acts made them heroes. Their commitment reflected our unity as a people and as a nation,” she adds. “Their courage gave us hope that we would emerge from these dark days stronger and more resilient than ever. The whole country watched; the whole world watched, frustrated in our own inability to be at the scene and to be helpful, grateful to those who were so brave, so courageous, to make that sacrifice in a place that was uncertain in terms of its health aspects.”
The Zadroga legislation would pay a debt to those responders, Pelosi says.
“This is not a time for any partisanship. This legislation is the least we can do to offer our gratitude and support to those heroes, those individuals who never asked for any recognition or accolades, who simply want the opportunity to live, to live out their lives with health and happiness,” the California Democrat says. “And Americans will have a hard time understanding how any leader in Congress could oppose this critical assistance. Let’s find a way to help these people, not let’s look for ways not to help. We must uphold our pledge to help every one of them. We must not desert them. We must join together as Democrats and Republicans to provide this critical assistance.”
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.