House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is challenging opponents of the so-called Ground Zero mosque to support legislation to provide healthcare for those who responded on-scene in the rubble in the days and weeks that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
President Obama expressed support last Friday for the Islamic community center, touching off days of mushrooming outrage, particularly among such Republicans as former Speaker Newt Gingrich, ex-Alaska governor Sarah Palin and House GOP Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, who all have slammed the project, known as Cordoba House.
Gingrich, particularly, reportedly compared Cordoba House supporters to Nazis.
Saying that “freedom of religion is a Constitutional right” and “where a place of worship is located is a local decision,” Pelosi sought to use the controversy, instead, to turn attention to a stalled bill to provide care for first responders and others afflicted with illness caused by their exposure to toxic dust and debris at Ground Zero. Such exposure has led to serious respitory problems and other illnesses.
About 65,000 responders and less than 25,000 survivors are expected to enroll in the health program the bill would authorize.
House Republicans in July blocked passage of the legislation, known as the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act (H.R. 847). While the vote was 255 to 159 in support of the bill, it fell short of the two-thirds margin needed for passage under suspension of the rules; 155 Republicans voted against the bill.
“For all of those expressing concern about the 9/11 families, we call upon them to join us in support of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act when Congress returns in September,” Pelosi says.
The bill is “fully paid for” in that its cost would not add to the federal budget deficit. It makes up its cost, Pelosi notes, through a provision preventing foreign multinational firms that are incorporated in so-called “tax haven countries” from avoiding tax on income earned in the United States.
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.