New York’s Democratic senators announced changes to their legislation to help pay for healthcare for Americans who fell ill for their service at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The changes are designed to win over Republicans who have been blocking consideration of the measure.
Meanwhile, hosts on Fox News, which usually supports GOP lawmakers and their positions, have been lambasting Republicans in harsh language over their filibuster of the 9/11 health bill.
Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer say they’ve altered their bill, including trimming the bill’s price tag by $1.2 billion, in a move that they hope clears the way for final passage of the measure before the end of the year.
The senators say that they have received a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to hold a vote on their bill this week once debate on the New START treaty is ended. They say the changes to the 9/11 bill were likely to win enough Republican support to block a filibuster.
“I believe we now have more than enough votes to pass this legislation. We have been working extremely closely with a number of Republicans and have made a series of changes to the bill,” Gillibrand says. “Americans will be watching closely over the next few days and expecting the Senate to do what is right and fulfill our moral obligation to these heroes.”
As a result of a settlement reached last month with many of the ailing Ground Zero workers, the overall cost of the bill is now reduced from $7.4 billion to $6.2 billion, according to a statement released by Gillibrand.
Additionally, in response to concerns raised by Senate Republicans, Gillibrand and Schumer unveiled a new way of paying for the bill. Instead of relying on the House-passed offset that closed foreign tax loopholes, the new Senate bill would impose a 2-percent excise fee on certain foreign companies that receive U.S. government contracts. This raises roughly $4.5 billion over 10 year. To offset the remaining cost of the 9/11 measure, the bill includes two other revenue-raising measures that have passed the Senate either unanimously or on a broad, bipartisan vote.
The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which has been a priority of New York’s congressional delegation for years, would provide health care for first responders who rushed to Ground Zero in the days after the World Trade Center attack. It failed on a party-line vote earlier this month on account of a Republican filibuster, but Gillibrand and Schumer have vowed to continue fighting.
Some 13,956 Ground Zero responders are sick and receiving treatment just this year, and 53,352 responders are enrolled in medical monitoring. More than 71,000 individuals are enrolled in the WTC Health Registry, indicating that they were exposed to toxins released due to collapse of the World Trade Center. While the majority live in the New York/New Jersey area, at least 10,497 responders who came from around the country were identified as exposed, of which at least 4,185 are being monitored or are receiving treatment, according to Gillibrand’s office.
The House already approved a version of the legislation, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, this fall after Republicans in that chamber tried to defeat it.
‘A National Shame’
Fox News hosts have begun actively lobbying on the air for the 9/11 bill, according to a media analysis assembled by Senate Democrats.
One such example is this exchange between Fox hosts Shepard Smith and Chris Wallace:
Shepard Smith, The Fox Report: “Who’s going to hold these people’s feet to the fire? We’re able to put a 52-story building so far down there at Ground Zero, we’re able to pay for tax cuts for billionaires who don’t need them and it’s not going to stimulate the economy. But we can’t give health care to Ground Zero first responders who ran right into the fire? You know how do they how do they sleep at night after this vote on uh ground zero first responders from 9/11? Are they going to get that done or are we going to leave these American heroes out there to twist in the wind?”
Chris Wallace (responding): “Well, it’s a good question and it’s a national shame. The idea that, you know, the people who were there were the first responders after 9/11 and have had health problems as a result — you would think if you are going to take care of all of these other things – and they were gonna pass these earmarks and name buildings and post offices after people – that they would take care of some authentic American heroes. But, that I don’t know what the deal is and whether they will get to that or not.”
Smith: “[T]hese people ran to ground zero to save people’s lives and we are not even going to give ‘em medicine for the illness that they got down there? It’s disgusting – it’s a national disgrace – it’s a shame – and everybody who voted against it should have to stand up for and account for himself or herself. Is anybody going to hold them accountable?”
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.