On Fox Business Network this morning, Don Imus aggressively questioned Senator — and possible presidential hopeful — John Thune (R-SD) about Republican obstruction of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, which would provide desperately needed health care to those who volunteered to help at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. Imus raised Daily Show host Jon Stewart’s recent point about Republicans who frequently invoke 9/11 imagery, but refuse to help the workers, and asked Thune how he could defend this refusal. Thune explained that preserving the Bush tax cuts was more of a priority:
IMUS: It seems to me and it seems to others that if we’re going to help anybody, we would certainly help these Americans who were the first responders to 9/11.
THUNE: The difference I think with the tax bill is there is a deadline, Jan. 1, we have to get this done, taxes go up on Jan. 1, that’s a matter of law. We need to get the issue addressed for the firefighters and the 9/11 victims and we will. But again there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this, and there’s a way in which you can pay for these things, and try and get this thing to where it doesn’t cost quite as much, where it doesn’t provide as much exposure, as much liability – there are some things in this bill that we think can be improved upon. We need an opportunity to do that.They want to rush through all these things at the end of the year, without debate, without amdendments, with the opportunity to go through a normal process. And I think we can do that, we can do many of these last-minute initiatives they’re trying to push through, we can do them next year.
IMUS: I know there’s a deadline on the tax situation, but there’s also a deadline on the health of these firemen and these police officers.
Thune’s admission that tax cuts are a higher priority is stunning, as are his admonitions against “rushing” the Zadroga bill. As Imus correctly notes, there’s a very real deadline on the health of 9/11 volunteers who are desperately awaiting health care assistance from the country they served over nine years ago. For example, just this fall, Joe Picurro, a 9/11 volunteer who was central to the push for health care assistance — and who himself suffered for years with little or no health care — passed away. As the New York Daily News reported:
Joe Picurro volunteered to cut steel at Ground Zero more than nine years ago. It cost him his life Friday morning. [...]
“He fought up until the day he went,” said wife Laura Picurro. “I’m going to miss him, like unbelievable.”
Because Picurro volunteered, he had to fight for years to get any aid after 9/11 charities closed.
Even as his lungs deteriorated and late-night rushes to the emergency rooms grew all too familiar, he and Laura still had to fight bureaucrats who refused to recognize the source of his problems. When he finally got workers’ compensation in 2006, he was down to his last nickel.
Laura had to scrimp, scrape and borrow to make ends meet, care for Joe – and stave off eviction. “I don’t know how we made it, still in this house, the lights still on,” she said, her voice cracking.
But Picurro’s tale made him one of the symbols of how the heroes of 9/11 were being forgotten. He joined the push on Congress to pass the James Zadroga Health and Compensation Act. His death was a blow to a community that has seen all too much tragedy, with hundreds of 9/11 responders having died over the years.
As the report notes, Picurro and other volunteers have been waiting for years for assistance from the federal government. Thune’s whining that Democrats are “rushing” the Zadroga bill through is patently ridiculous. The bill, or very similar versions, were first introduced in the House over four years ago, and have suffered repeated Republican obstruction ever since. Nevertheless, Thune apparently finds the preservation of low tax rates for the wealthy to be a more pressing matter.