Yesterday, members of the New York Congressional delegation met with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to discuss the federal government's programs to provide medical treatment and monitoring to those who are sick because of the 9/11 attacks. The representatives also discussed with Secretary Sebelius the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, legislation to make federal 9/11 health programs permanent and reopen the federal Victim Compensation Fund -- a bill for which President Obama expressed support during the 2008 campaign.
The compensation provisions of the bill were approved by the House Judiciary Committee in July with bipartisan support. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the health components of the bill, is expected to consider the bill following the completion of health care reform legislation.
Unfortunately, during yesterday's meeting, Secretary Sebelius stated that the Obama Administration now cannot support the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act due to the bill's provisions that would require mandatory annual spending on federal 9/11 health programs. The programs as currently constituted are funded through discretionary spending, which needs to be renewed and approved annually.
Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler, Peter King, and Michael McMahon today issued the following joint statement responding to Secretary Sebelius's comments. The lawmakers also said that they plan to request a meeting with President Obama in the near future.
"We were disappointed by Secretary Sebelius's statement that the administration has changed its stance on our bill. President Obama supported our bill during the campaign and he has always emphasized the importance of making sure that the right priorities receive funding. What could be a higher priority than taking care of the thousands of Americans who are sick because of the terrorist attacks on our country?
"In last night's State of the Union address, the President stressed the importance of making sure that new spending is deficit-neutral. The fact that we are committed to passing 9/11 health legislation that is fully paid-for makes the Secretary's statements especially puzzling.
"We requested yesterday's meeting to ask the administration to focus on the issue of 9/11 health and to help us pass our bill, but clearly they have yet to fully appreciate the need for a permanent program to address the 9/11 health crisis. So, we will be requesting a meeting with President Obama himself. We believe that if presented with the facts about our legislation, the President would support the bill as it is drafted. We are committed to moving this legislation forward and meeting our country's moral obligation to help those who rushed to our country's aid after 9/11 or were innocent victims of the attacks."