Committed to the obstruction of any Democratic priority, Senate Republicans successfully blocked the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act that gives desperately-needed compensation to first responders who contracted serious illnesses while working at Ground Zero. While happy to exploit 9/11 heroes in support of their own agenda, not one Republican came to the Senate floor to explain their opposition to this bill. Their indifference towards the first responders, however, surfaced elsewhere. When confronted on Fox News, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) insisted that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy were a higher priority. In the Senate rotunda, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) stepped around a first responder asking for his support, telling him “I can’t help you.” And when some first responders planned to meet Senators in their offices, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) actually called the Capitol police.
Last week, an incensed Jon Stewart invited 9/11 first responders to the Daily Show to offer their thoughts on this callous behavior. “Disgusted” and “hurt” by their actions, the rescue workers admonished Republicans for using the holiday schedule and Senate process as an excuse to block desperately needed help. Recounting their criticism today, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace asked Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) why he couldn’t “find a way to give these heroes peace of mind when it comes to health care.” Ignoring their emotional pleas, Kyl insisted that, while he didn’t want to deny care to those who desperately need it, he just refuses to do so “in a hurry”:
WALLACE: Senator, everyone — everyone — praises the first responders as heroes. You say you’re skeptical about the bill. Why not find a way to give these heroes peace of mind when it comes to health care?
KYL: First of all, they should have peace of mind when it comes to health care. The question is what and how? And when you try do it, as you said in your introduction, in a hurry, in a lame duck session, without a hearing, without understanding what the ramifications are and whether we can amend the bill, you’re doing it in the worst way. For example, there has already been a settlement for a lot of these people, a fund that’s been set up for them to receive funding. Will the people who are supporting this legislation be able to participate in that fund? Nobody has been able to say. Why $7 billion? What will the requirements for qualification be for the money?
Nobody wants to deny care to people who, and by the way these are primarily people who helped to clean up the site in the aftermath of 9/11 and there weren’t enough adequate precautions taken in some cases to deal with potential health issues and to the extent that they’ve become ill they do need to be taken care of. It’s one thing to make an emotional appeal to say we need to care for someone who did something good. It’s another to do it in a sensible way. And that’s all we’re asking for. You bring it up in the lame duck session with no opportunity to amend it and you’re probably going to make bad legislation. All this could have been done earlier I might add.
Kyl’s excuses fall flat in the face of fact. Any cries for more time ignore that both the Senate and House version of the Zadroga bill have been available to Kyl since 2009. If a year with the text wasn’t enough, Kyl was free to attend the bill’s June 2010 Senate hearing he insists never happened. Had he shown up, he would’ve learned that the bill is very clear on who is eligible for funding. First responders can pursue compensation established by the Zadroga bill to bolster any coverage already received from the current health fund set up in New York City.
More outrageous than Kyl’s constant lies is the truth behind GOP’s miscarriage of responsibility. The Zadroga bill was originally funded by ending a special tax loophole exploited by foreign corporations that do business in the U.S. But because the party’s puppeteer, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, insisted that ending the tax loophole would “damage U.S. relationships with major trading partners,” Republicans quickly and quietly lined up against the bill. In a last ditch effort to secure their support, Sen. Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY) replaced that funding measure with a new offset that places “a 2 percent fee on procurement contracts for certain countries, combined with a visa fee.” Now, it seems Republicans are magically on board and, according to Gillibrand (D-NY), willing to pass the bill by Christmas.
Health benefits for those who risked their lives on 9/11 should be a foregone conclusion. But given the popularity of Kyl’s outrageous excuses to block any Democratic priority, Gillibrand cannot see this tenuous support as anything less than a “Christmas miracle.”