9/11 Bill 'Christmas Miracle' Seen

The Wall Street Journal - December 20, 2010


New York lawmakers said Sunday they have crafted a scaled-down version of a health-care bill for sick Ground Zero workers that should garner enough Republican support to pass in the waning days of Congress's lame-duck session.

"We are on the verge of a Christmas miracle,'' Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said at a Sunday press conference with her fellow New York Democrat, Sen. Charles Schumer. The measure fell short in a Senate vote earlier this month, which made a successful second vote a long shot. The legislation has languished in Congress for years.

Supporters of the bill believe that the smaller price tag-the overall cost was cut to $6.2 billion from $7.4 billion-combined with a different method of paying for the legislation, will be enough to win yes votes from Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, according to people familiar with the discussions. Three other Republicans are also considered possible supporters of the altered version of the bill.

Yet by changing the bill, the lawmakers have swapped a set of political hurdles for new, logistical challenges.

The Senate is wrestling with a major nuclear-missile treaty, and if that consumes many more days of debate, there may not be time left to vote on the Ground Zero bill before lawmakers leave for the Christmas holiday. And changing the bill to improve its chances of passing the Senate means the House will have to vote on the updated version as well, so Mr. Schumer and Ms. Gillibrand will have to work fast while both sets of lawmakers in Washington. House lawmakers, who passed an earlier version of the bill, are poised to leave early next week after approving a temporary spending measure.

"One of our concerns is that someone might try to delay and delay,'' said Mr. Schumer.

The new version of the bill would use an excise tax on government purchases of material overseas instead of corporate taxes to pay for health care and compensation for ill recovery workers and others exposed to toxic dust from the collapsed World Trade Center. It would also continue increased fees on H-1B and L-1 visas for companies that have the majority of their employees on such visas.