By Michael McAuliff
Democrats are immoral cowards for trying to pass the 9/11 health and compensation act as a bill that requires a two-thirds vote and doesn't allow the GOP a chance to alter it, Rep. Pete King charged today.
King, a Long Island Republican, is furious because he believes the measure would pass easily as a regular bill needing a simple majority -- but Democrats fear the GOP might attach toxic provisions if they get the chance.
"The Democrats are guilty of moral cowardice and a failure of leadership," King told the Daily News this morning.
"They put this up on the suspension calendar knowing it's not going to get a two-thirds vote," he fumed. "It's really morally disgraceful They are letting cops and firefighters die because their members don't have the guts to take a vote."
King acknowledged that the GOP -- like the Democrats when they were in the minority -- regularly tries to influence legislation and even kill it when they get the chance, as they are allowed under the regular legislative rules in the House.
The out-of-power party does that by offering a "motion to recommit" on the House floor which can send a bill back to the drawing board, often with instructions on how it should be redone. Lately, the GOP as attached language on abortion, immigration and other hot-button issues that divide the Democratic Party.
The 9/11 bill, with its emphasis on health, potentially could offer a vehicle to attack the recent health care reform law, though no one has said publicly that Republicans would attempt such a ploy. Republicans already tried to attach immigration and abortion restrictions to the bill when it was being written, and could again.
But King argues Democrats have had the votes to pass whatever they think is important -- such as health care and the stimuls bill -- and the 9/11 bill would attract at least some GOP support. Many in the party oppose it because of the $10.5 billion cost, and the plan to pay for it by closing tax loopholes of foreign companies.
He blames the House leaders, but also his New York colleagues for going along.
"Too many members in the New York delegation are covering up for them," King charged. "This is the ultimate in moral cowardice. It's morally indefensible.
"There are motions to recommit on every bill," he added. "Why are they applying this standard to this one bill?"
King said he was especially disappointed in his Democratic partners because they had made the bill a top priority four years ago when Republicans lost their grip on power, and he said he doesn't understand why they've failed to deliver.
"It's poor leadership, it's morally deficient leadership, and it's just the ultimate in cowardice," he said.
The measure was supposed to have come up this afternoon, but late last night was delayed until Thursday.
Delegation Democrats know the suspension bill route is tougher, but insist it stall has a chance to pass. And they argue that if it doesn't, at least the vote will show the bill has majority support, and it will build momentum to pass it the normal way in September.
The Obama administration has been reluctant to back the measure because it mandates the spending, rather than leaving it up to the annual appropriations process. And while the White House has doubled spending for ailing 9/11 responders to $150 million, the bill would more than double that, and make it very difficult to cut.