Two weeks ago, Senate Republicans unanimously filibustered a bill to provide health benefits to the firefighters, police officers, and construction workers who were the first responders to the terror attacks on 9/11 and contracted illnesses as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals during their work. Republicans have been callously blocking the bill, saying it has a lower priority than extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, that they don’t want to “hurry,” and telling the responders — some of whom have already died from their illnesses — “I can’t help you.”
This weekend, New York Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) Chuck Schumer (D) announced they had modified the bill, reducing its overall pricetag and changing the way it is paid for, and thus gained some GOP support. But Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the number two Senate Republican, is still not pleased. Appearing on Fox News today, Kyl pretended he had “no idea” what was in the bill, and even wondered if these heroes needed the help:
HOST: Will you change your vote to a yes on the bill, knowing those changes?
KYL: This has been a moving target since day one. … This is something that they came up with to just put directly on the floor of the Senate, without any hearings, without any opportunities to figure out what it should be like. [...]
I have no idea how this thing would work. So they reduced it from $7 billion to $6 billion — I have no idea whether $6 billion is a reasonable figure. … But the question is who’s responsible? Who’s at fault? Do they have the money? Is the insurance adequate to cover it? Wasn’t the previous settlement adequate? Why would they need $6 billion?
Kyl’s feigned ignorance on the bill is pathetic. As ThinkProgress noted when Kyl tried to pass off the same phony objections last week, the Senate and House version of the bill have been available to Kyl and anyone else to read since 2009, and there was in fact a Senate hearing on it in June, even though he insists it never happened. Meanwhile, changes to bill have been made at the GOP’s behest. So to claim that he has “no idea” what’s in the bill is negligent, at best.
As for Kyl’s list of questions, these have all been answered in the hearing and elsewhere. The bill will provide funding for eight years to monitor and treat injuries stemming from exposure to toxic dust and debris, as well as to reopen the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund to provide help for job and economic losses. The case of Joe Picurro, who volunteered to cut steel at Ground Zero and died in October as a result, illustrates why these heroes need $6 billion. Picurro fought with his insurance company and the government for years, before finally receiving workers’ compensation in 2006, but only after “he was down to his last nickel.” His wife, Laura has “had to scrimp, scrape and borrow to make ends meet, care for Joe – and stave off eviction.” Meanwhile, Kyl and his colleagues have spent the last year fighting tooth and nail to give the wealthiest two percent of Americans another $700 billion, and to cut estate taxes to help children of the richest 0.2 percent of households.
On Thursday, former GOP Arkansas Gov. and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said “every Republican” should support the bill.
As for Kyl’s cowardly attempt to hide behind the way the bill has moved through the Senate, is Kyl really going to jeopardize the health of thousands of American heroes like Picurro to claim the moral high ground on arcane Senate procedure, which only affects him and his 40 GOP colleagues?
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) strongly urged the Senate to pass the bill today at a press conference with firefighters and police officers, saying, “The time for excuses is over.”
,This afternoon on Fox, former New York Republican Gov. George Pataki shot down each one of Kyl’s concerns, saying “he’s raising valid questions, but I think they’ve been answered.” Pataki pleaded with the Senate to finish the bill before recessing, saying, “this is the right thing to do for the people who inspired America, and this is the right time to do it.” “It’s hard to argue with any of that,” Fox host Shep Smith responded: