New York Lawmakers Vow to Push Passage of 9/11 Health Care Bill

NY 1 - December 21, 2010

by Bobby Cuza

Saying they are on the verge of a Christmas miracle, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer believe they now have enough bipartisan support to pass the health care bill for September 11th responders, and city, state and federal officials are vowing to do everything they can to guarantee its success.

The measure would create a fund to monitor and treat first responders who got sick after working at the World Trade Center site following the terror attacks.

At a news conference Monday morning, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, flanked by first responders and nearly a dozen elected officials, said that the vote is about "whether we should stand by those who stood by America in its greatest time of need."

"Caring for the men and women who rushed to our defense on that dark day and in the days that followed is nothing less than a national duty," said Bloomberg. "America is too great a country to sherk this duty. We are too strong, too proud, too patriotic, and this is the week that we have to show it."

"Congress needs to give a message that this government stands behind those who unhesitatingly responded to our nation in a time of need," said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney said after seven years of debate, she believes the bill will be approved in the Senate but now the problem is timing. Lawmakers are calling on the Republican leadership to expedite a vote in the Senate so that it can move on to the House and then make it to the president's desk before the holidays.

Republicans had balked at the bill's $7.4 billion price tag. But Gillibrand and Schumer say they've made changes to bring down the cost, and now think they have the 60 votes needed to pass the bill.

"We have worked extremely close with a number of our Republican colleagues and have made a series of changes to the bill to accommodate their support," said Gillibrand. "We have reduced the size of the legislation. We've reduced the cost by more than $1 billion from $7.4 billion to $6.2 billion, and this will not diminish the health care that we are able to provide for these heroes."

"We believe we're on the verge of an 11th-hour breakthrough," said Schumer. "This has been a long process. It's like running a marathon. We've had a lot of ups and a lot of downs."

Both Gillibrand and Schumer say the bill will mostly be paid for by a fee on certain foreign companies that receive government contracts.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill right after work wraps up a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, which could be as early as Tuesday.

The House passed the original bill, but would have to reconsider any new version before the lame-duck session ends.

First responders who spoke with NY1 are hoping the Senate will finally pass the bill.

"I want to tell politicians to vote with their heart, not because of the party," said 9/11 first responder Gabriel Pacino. "They know what we did. If I had to do it all over again, I would do it in a heartbeat. This is my land."

"I'm not ready to pop the champagne because anything can happen from now and Tuesday or Wednesday when the vote goes," said John Feal, a 9/11 first responder and advocate. "But I can tell you whoever votes against 9/11 responders a couple days before Christmas is truly un-American."

The legislation is named for New York City Police Department detective James Zadroga, who died of respiratory illness after working for months at the World Trade Center site.