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Mr. Speaker, this bill presents a sensitive issue with regard to compensation for those who are suffering ailments as a result of the recovery and cleanup efforts at the World Trade Center site. No doubt there are many with legitimate claims as a result of their efforts at Ground Zero. However, this legislation as written creates a huge $8.4 billion slush fund paid for by taxpayers that is open to abuse, fraud, and waste. That is because the legislation creates an inexplicable and unprecedented 21-year long fund.
The case of the bill's namesake, James Zadroga, is indicative of the problems with this bill. Rather than finding that Detective Zadroga's death was the result of exposure to Ground Zero dust, the New York City medical examiner concluded that, ``It is our unequivocal opinion, with certainty beyond doubt, that the foreign material
in Detective Zadroga's lungs did not get there as a result of inhaling dust at the World Trade Center or elsewhere.'' So the bill is deceptive, starting with its title.
The danger here is not simply the occasional unsupported claim, as in the case of Detective Zadroga, but the creation of a massive and expensive compensation system that will be subject to pervasive problems over the unprecedented 21 years it will be open to claimants.
The legislation also vastly extends the geographic scope of the fund to cover ``routes of debris removal.'' This will result in the potential for a huge number of additional claimants with tenuous connections between their medical problems and the cleanup efforts at Ground Zero.
The bill allows claims to be filed until the year 2031, an unjustifiable length of time. As Ken Feinberg, Special Master of the original 9/11 fund and the administrator of the BP oil spill claims process stated, ``no latent claims need such an extended date.''
Additionally, the bill permits those who have settled their lawsuits to reopen their claims and seek additional taxpayer-funded compensation through the 9/11 fund. This is contrary to both the terms of the original 9/11 fund and to normal legal principles regarding final settlements.
By greatly expanding the fund's eligibility criteria, these proposed changes not only will increase the cost of the fund, but will present more opportunities for fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars.
Also the bill does little, if anything, to limit the special master's unbounded authority. The amount of discretion given to the Special Master may have been acceptable under the original 9/11 fund because it was designed to compensate a limited number of claimants with relatively noncontroversial claims as soon as possible. However, this amount of discretion will not work for the 21-year-long fund created by this bill with its larger set of potential claimants who have injuries with more ambiguous causation. If nothing else, this structure will be an open invitation for spurious claims.
The original 9/11 fund was an understandable expression of a nation's compassion and generosity following the deaths of thousands of innocent people. It was designed to settle the claims of those covered once and for all. Maybe that claim should be reopened to protect the construction contractors from the financially ruinous litigation they now face. But if we are going to reopen the funds, we should do so in a much more narrow way, with far less discretion for the Special Master than that provided for in H.R. 847.
It is hard to explain spending billions of additional taxpayer dollars when Special Master Ken Feinberg has emphatically stated that the $1.5 billion in taxpayer money, charitable contributions, and insurance coverage currently available for distribution is ``more than sufficient to pay all eligible claims, as well as lawyers' fees and costs.''
Why does Congress continue to overreach and consider taxpayers to be their personal slush fund? There is no excuse for this kind of legislation, and I hope thoughtful Members will want to oppose the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
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