Zadroga Bill to Aid 9/11 First Responders Could Pass Senate in Just Days, Senators Say

NY Daily News - December 20, 2010

by Michael Mcauliff

WASHINGTON - The bill to aid ailing 9/11 first responders could pass the Senate in just days, New York's senators said Sunday afternoon in announcing a funding deal to win over several Republican backers.

Republicans has filibustered the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, with just one backing legislation that would have spent $7.4 billion to provide health care and compensation for lost lives, jobs and wages.

But two Republicans said last week they could back the measure - if the right way to fund it was found.

New York Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, said they've found that way by cutting the price tag to $6.2 billion and tapping three new sources for the money.

"We are on the verge of a Christmas miracle. The nation is watching," Gillibrand said. "I believe that we have more than enough votes that we need to pass this legislation."

Schumer warned that Republicans could still obstruct the bill, and time could run out if the Senate gets stuck on the START nuclear treaty. But he predicted success.

'The clock is winding down, but we believe we are on the verge of an 11th-hour breakthrough," Schumer said. "We believe we are on the path to victory by the end of this week."

The bill originally paid for itself by closing tax loopholes used by foreign companies, but the GOP considered that hiking fees on firms that create jobs in America.

The new version adds a 2% fee on federal contracts for foreign companies whose nations bar U.S. firms from their government contracts. That would raise $4.5 billion.

The deal would also extend fees on work visas for companies that outsource jobs and extend a travel tourism visa fee for the rest of the money. Both of those fees passed the Senate easily last year. Some extra cash also would go to cutting the federal deficit.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) had been the sole Republican for the legislation. Maine Sen. Susan Collins said last week she'd support it with different funding. Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski told responders that as well.

If those three stick to their positions, the bill will pass.

Other possible Republican backers are Florida Sen. George LeMiuex, Ohio Sen. George Voinovich, Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, and Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, who said she'd back it after the Bush-era tax cuts got extended.

"Republican leaders across the country are supporting this bill," Gillibrand said, arguing that helping heroes is not a partisan issue.

Schumer said Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised to bring the Zadroga bill up as soon as START is done, and could wind up keeping the Senate in through Christmas if necessary.

"We will stay here as long as it takes to pass this bill through the Senate and the House," Schumer said.

Once the Senate does its work, the bill would have to go back to the House, but it already passed there by a wide margin. Speaker Nancy Pelosi simply has to keep her members around - and Gillibrand said she has promised that.

"To go home whether it's close to Christmas or not and leave these heroes abandoned would be the wrong thing to do," Schumer declared.

"America will be watching very closely to how this Senate votes on something that goes to the fundamental issue of who we are as Americans, and whether we stand by our heroes," Gillibrand said.