Supporters of the Zadroga 9/11 health bill claimed after a day of lobbying Tuesday that they're very close to getting the 60 Senate votes they need to pass the long-awaited measure.
The $7.4-billion bill to help those ailing from the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, which the House already has passed, is expected to be brought to the Senate floor before the end of the year.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police, firefighters and union members came down from New York Tuesday to urge senators, mostly Republicans, to back the measure in what activist John Feal called "the largest lobbying effort ever on this bill."
But at a rally at day's end, New York's Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the bill's Senate sponsor, and Sen. Charles Schumer said they still have work to do. "We don't have the votes now," Schumer said. "We're very close."
He said they were a "handful of votes" short of the 60 needed to overcome the expected Republican filibuster.
Gillibrand said she has "a very high degree of confidence" the measure will win all Senate Democratic votes. But not all lawmakers shared that confidence.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said recently elected Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk told him he would vote for the bill.
Bloomberg, who met with several senators, including Susan Collins (R-Maine), said, "We can't wait any longer for action on this legislation."
If the measure isn't passed in the Senate by year's end, it must start over in a more conservative Congress next year.
The prospect of the newly elected GOP House majority approving it appears to be daunting - only 17 Republicans voted for it earlier this year.
Gillibrand said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had agreed to "fast-track" the bill so it could skip committee hearings and be voted on on the Senate floor as early as this week.
But a Reid aide made it clear passage is up to Republicans.
A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not respond to a query. McConnell has refused to take a public position.
In Manhattan, meanwhile, the deadline for Ground Zero responders to join a proposed $650-million settlement of health-related lawsuits against New York City arrived last night amid uncertainty about whether a 95 percent participation rate required for the deal to take effect had been achieved.
U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein has prohibited lawyers for the 10,000-plus claimants from discussing the tally until an official count is completed by a settlement administrator. That will occur no earlier than Thursday. The last time the plaintiffs' lawyers released a count, eight days ago, they had reached 92 percent. Hellerstein extended the deadline shortly after.
In an order Tuesday, the judge said he would not approve any more extensions. The city and its insurance company could reduce the 95 percent requirement if it isn't met.
Also, Hellerstein asked the victims' lawyers Tuesday for information on clients who hadn't responded at all on the settlement - suggesting he may dismiss abandoned cases, reducing the number needed to reach 95 percent.