Mayor Will Push Senators to Pass 9/11 Health Bill

Press Release

By:  Pete King
Date: Nov. 13, 2010
Location: Unknown

Hoping to generate last-minute momentum for a long-stalled health care bill for ground zero rescue workers, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg plans to travel to Washington next week to lobby several crucial Republican senators who are believed to be undecided.

The House of Representatives passed the $7.4 billion bill in September, largely along party lines, with Democrats citing a moral obligation to help those who risked their lives after the Sept. 11 attacks and who contracted illnesses from breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke. Republicans said the program was too expensive.

But with a new and decidedly more conservative Congress set to take office in January, the bill's supporters are worried that the legislation, which took years to piece together, will die in the lame-duck session that begins on Monday.

So Mr. Bloomberg, who backs the bill, plans to meet on Tuesday with three or four Republicans, though his office said on Friday that a list had not yet been finalized.
Congressional staff workers said those likely to meet with Mr. Bloomberg included Senators Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts and John McCain of Arizona.

Mr. Bloomberg also plans to take part in a news conference with New York's two Democratic senators, Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer; Representative Peter T. King, a Long Island Republican; Representative Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat who represents Lower Manhattan; and union leaders representing the firefighters, police officers and others who responded to the attack.

"Nine-eleven was an attack on America, and there are sick responders from every state," Michelle L. Goldstein, executive director of the city's Federal Affairs Office in Washington, said Friday. "If the Senate doesn't pass the bill this session, these brave men and women will have to wait even longer for the health care they so desperately need."

Whether Mr. Bloomberg, an independent, has enough political capital to make a difference remains to be seen.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, has been adept at convincing his caucus to block several major Democratic initiatives. And with six more Republican senators set to join in January, there is little incentive, it would appear, to break ranks now.

Democrats believe they need only two Republican votes to reach the 60 votes needed to break any filibuster.

Ms. Gillibrand, the bill's main sponsor, said she was hopeful that a last-minute bipartisan push would work.

"I'm talking to Republicans every day about the merits of this legislation, and the mayor, Congressman King and others are a very important part of our strategy to secure Republican votes," Ms. Gillibrand said in a statement on Friday, while traveling in Pakistan and Afghanistan. "We have a moral obligation to pass this bill."

The bill, known as the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, bears the name of a New York Police Department detective who participated in the recovery efforts at ground zero for about three weeks after the attack.

Detective Zadroga died in January 2006 after developing symptoms common to first responders, including breathing problems and flulike conditions. The cause of his death became a source of debate after the city's medical examiner concluded that it was not directly related to the 9/11 attacks.

The bill calls for providing $3.2 billion over the next eight years -- 10 percent of which would be paid for by the city -- to monitor and treat injuries stemming from exposure to toxic dust and debris at ground zero. The bill would also set aside $4.2 billion to reopen the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund to provide compensation for job and economic losses.

In addition, the bill includes a provision that would allow money from the Victim Compensation Fund to be paid to any eligible claimant who receives a payment under the pending settlement of lawsuits that 10,000 rescue and cleanup workers filed against the city.