By Michael McAuliff
The U.S. Senate finally is headed for a vote on the sweeping measure to care for thousands of sick and dying 9/11 heroes, the majority leader announced Saturday.
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) proclaimed after a rare weekend session the he intended to start the arcane Senate process to pass the bill Monday.
"I am going to file cloture on the 9/11 situation in New York," Reid said on the Senate floor.
The move sets up the first of three high stakes votes that likely will decide whether the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act ever comes to life, providing $3.2 billion for healthcare and $4.2 billion for compensation and others items.
The first vote would come Wednesday, with 60 Senators needed to agree to start debating the bill. Another 60 lawmakers would then have to agree to end the debate, setting up a third and final vote, with just a simple majority of 51 needed.
The first two are crucial, because only 59 senators have voiced support for the bill. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois is the only Republican to sign on, and at least one more is needed.
Still, New York's senators hailed the movement as the farthest legislators have been able to get since their colleagues in the House started trying years ago. The bill has passed there.
"When I first introduced this bill in the Senate last year, no one thought we would make it to this point," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who picked up the legislation after Hillary Clinton left.
"Due to the tireless effort of so many first responders and survivors, after nine long years we are close to fulfilling our duty to the 9/11 heroes, but we still have a lot of work to do," she said.
"The 9/11 heroes deserve an up or down vote," she said, arguing for her GOP colleagues not to filibuster the bill, and let it get that third and final vote.
"Let's put politics aside, engage in a thorough and respectful debate, and then let each senator decide for themselves whether the heroes and victims of September 11th deserve quality health treatment and appropriate compensation for their tremendous loss and sacrifice," she said.
Republicans object to the way the bill is paid for, by closing tax loopholes on foreign corporations. Some have also raised objections that enough has already been done to help the men and women who are suffering for their service after the worst terrorist attacks on America.
Long Island GOP Rep. Pete King, who was a sponsor of the House bill, slammed his Senate colleagues for being shortsighted, and looking at the bill as politics as usual instead of helping heroes who are dying.
He singled out Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi, a Republican identified by many insiders as the lead opponent.
"Mike Enzi - yeah, he's my favorite," King said sarcastically. "I think it's just the knee-jerk anti-New York feeling that a lot of people have. But in this case it hurts our country, and our party. I think if they really look at this, they'll be for it."
"This will be a moment of truth to see who will stand up for our heroes," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). "We will spend the next four days scouring the Senate for that one more Republican we need. We are leaving no stone unturned in trying to find that last vote."