Newsday - December 20, 2010by PAUL LAROCCO
The Zadroga 9/11 health bill, in peril after Senate Republicans blocked a vote on it, got a boost yesterday when its Democratic sponsors said they've now lined up the support needed for passage later this week.
New York Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer said they had the Republican votes to get the bill approved and it would reach the Senate floor immediately after debate ends on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, perhaps as soon as Tuesday. A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) confirmed last night he expects to bring the vote up again before the lame-duck session ends.
"It would be a nice Christmas present," said Joseph Zadroga, whose late son James' case inspired the measure ensuring 10 years of health care for sickened Ground Zero workers. "These first responders are all still suffering out there."
Since a Republican filibuster stalled the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act 11 days ago, several compromises have been reached, Gillibrand and Schumer told a news conference. The bill's cost has been cut from $7.4 billion to $6.2 billion over the 10 years - thanks to the recent settlement with ailing responders - and its funding sources altered.
"Now there's nothing standing in the way," Gillibrand told Newsday.
The new version of the bill would shift the cost of funding responders' health care and compensation from a corporate tax to an excise tax on government purchases of material overseas. GOP senators had objected to the use of a corporate tax. While the House passed an original bill it too will have to approve the new version shaped in Senate as the final days of the lame-duck session wear down.
Gillibrand and Schumer said they were confident they had the 60 votes needed to pass the bill in the Senate but that debate could extend to the end of the session this week. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler (both D-Manhattan), authors of the House bill, said in a joint statement the Senate vote "may be our last opportunity to get 9/11 responders and survivors the care they need and deserve." They urged Senate Republicans to support it.
Glen Klein, 52, of Centereach, a former New York police officer sickened by toxic debris and dust, made a personal appeal to undecided senators last week.
"We told them, for thousands of 9/11 responders, it literally comes down to life or death," he said last night. "If this didn't pass, it would be a tragedy."