House Reject of 9/11 Health Bill

In Health Issues on August 14, 2010 at 8:50 am

The proposed 9/11 health bill for NYC responders was defeated in the house, but may be up again for vote in Fall:

WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Thursday blocked a Democratic plan to provide billions of dollars for medical treatment to rescue workers and residents of New York City who suffered illnesses from the toxic dust and debris at ground zero.

A majority of the lawmakers in the chamber supported the bill, but the 255-to-159 vote fell short of the two-thirds margin needed under special rules that were used to bring the measure to the floor. In the end, 243 Democrats and 12 Republicans supported the measure; 155 Republicans and 4 Democrats opposed it.

Democrats used rules requiring a wider majority for approval to prevent Republicans from offering amendments on the floor that would embarrass Democrats in an election year.  Republican opponents of the legislation expressed concern over the $7.4 billion cost of the program. But Democrats accused Republicans of being callous and vowed to bring the bill back for another vote in the fall.

Until now, the federal government has been appropriating money on an annual basis to monitor the health of people injured at ground zero and to provide them with medical treatment. But the bill’s supporters said there were problems with the year-to-year approach, including that money for the program was subject to the political whims of Congress and the White House.

The bill would have provided $3.2 billion over the next eight years to monitor and treat injuries stemming from exposure to toxic dust and debris at ground zero. New York City would have paid 10 percent of those health costs.

The bill also would have set aside $4.2 billion to reopen the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund to provide compensation for any job and economic losses.

In addition, the bill contained a provision that would have allowed money from the Victim Compensation Fund to be paid out to anyone who receives payment under the pending settlement stemming from lawsuits that 10,000 rescue and cleanup workers filed against the city. At the moment, anyone who receives a settlement from the city could not receive compensation from the fund, according to the bill’s sponsors.

Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a Democrat and one of the bill’s chief sponsors, expressed disappointment with the outcome, saying that it was a shame that many who opposed the measure “don’t understand the scope and severity of this health crisis.” But she expressed confidence that the House would pass the bill with a simple majority when Congress returned from its summer recess in September.

Representative Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas, who opposed the bill, described it as an “irresponsible overreach” and asserted that it did not contain sufficient protections to prevent waste and fraud.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, another Democratic sponsor, called the rejection of the measure “heartless and unpatriotic.”

There are nearly 60,000 people enrolled in a variety of health-monitoring and treatment programs related to the 9/11 attacks, according to the sponsors of the bill. The federal government provides the bulk of the funding for those health programs.

Heading into the vote, Democrats acknowledged it would be difficult to gather enough support to pass the bill under special rules requiring a two-thirds majority.

But Democrats were concerned that a simple majority vote would allow Republicans to propose a controversial amendment that seeks to deny 9/11 health benefits to illegal immigrants. That amendment threatened to fracture Democratic support for the original bill into two camps: moderates who might feel political pressure to deprive illegal immigrants of such benefits and liberals who flatly oppose the Republican amendment.

Still, many supporters of the legislation outside of Congress expressed bitter disappointment that House leaders did not allow a simple majority vote on the bill. In a statement afterward, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg expressed outrage over the outcome and criticized both parties.

“It was wrong for the overwhelming majority of Republicans to vote against the bill,” he said, “and it was wrong for Democrats to bring the bill to the floor under rules that made passage so much more difficult.”

%d bloggers like this: