GOP Senator Threatens to Block 9/11 Bill

The Wall Street Journal - December 22, 2010

by Devlin Barrett

New York lawmakers are pleading with Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn not to use procedural rules to block legislation that would provide aid to sick Ground Zero workers.

Coburn, a Republican, has said he has concerns about the bill and wants to put it on hold until 2011. Proponents of the $6.2 billion measure contend that waiting for the next congressional session is akin to killing the bill because the incoming Republican majority in the House is unlikely to support it.

New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, pleaded with Coburn Tuesday not to delay the measure, which faces a narrowing window for passage before lawmakers end their lame-duck session for the year.

"Enough, enough, enough with the delays," said Schumer. "These are American heroes, this is a matter of life and death. They didn't wait a minute before rushing to Ground Zero."

A test vote on the Ground Zero health-care bill failed earlier this month, but Schumer and Gillibrand say they now have enough Republican support in the Senate to pass a revised version of the legislation.

Democrats plan a vote on the matter once the Senate finishes considering a nuclear-missile treaty with Russia, but Coburn could invoke Senate rules to require up to 60 hours of time to pass before a final vote on the Ground Zero health-care measure. A 60-hour delay could prove fatal to the bill's chances: even if the Senate eventually goes on to pass a modified version of the bill, it would still need to be approved by the House before that chamber adjourns for the year.

The revised bill would provide $3.2 billion in long-term healthcare for those who were exposed to the toxic dust and debris at the World Trade Center site and later became ill. Proponents of the legislation say many people have developed lifelong breathing problems, as well as cancer and other diseases. Critics argue that the bill is too expensive and unnecessary.

Also Tuesday, Manhattan Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the Democratic lawmaker who authored the House version of the bill and has been its most prominent supporter, said it was time for President Barack Obama to speak up on the matter. She criticized the president for remaining too quiet on the issue at a critical moment.

Obama has said previously that he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

UPDATE: Sen. Schumer released a statement Tuesday evening saying that the Senate would vote on the revised 9/11 health-care bill Wednesday, and he predicted that "a supermajority" will support the measure.

"With the holidays fast approaching, we urge the Republicans to not drag this debate out needlessly," Schumer said. "We also ask the House of Representatives to remain in session so that this bill can become law before the end of the year."